City of Albany Mayor Gerald D. Jennings today unveiled “ALLbany Online,” a newly branded initiative by the city of Albany, the Albany Public Library, Tech Valley Communications, and a coalition of community-based organizations to increase computer and high-speed internet access, usability, and utility for city residents. During the press conference, held at the Albany Public Library’s Main Library on Washington Avenue, it was also announced that the library has been awarded a $244,517 grant from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) to increase computer center capacity.
The Broadband Technology Opportunity Program grant, part of the New York State Library’s “[email protected] library” project, is the largest federal grant ever received by the Albany Public Library. The library will use the funds to make more computers available more hours of the day to its customers, provide trained staff to assist those customers, and allow community organizations without such facilities to utilize the library’s public computing center (PCC).
Nowhere is the need for affordable internet access more apparent than at Albany’s Main Library. Each morning, local residents line up before the building opens so they can be among the first in queue to utilize the library’s free computer time. By mid-day the wait can be up to an hour or more. Close to 7,000 people use the free public computers at the Main Library every month.
“The Public Computing Centers, funded and supported under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, are designed to bring the fruits of high speed connectivity to everyone. As part of a highly effective network, the public computing centers and the libraries of which they are a part, will continue their critical role as a hub for community life and service,” said Bernard Margolis, state librarian and assistant commissioner for libraries.
The BTOP grant is the latest development for ALLbany Online, which began one year ago when the city of Albany and locally based telecommunications provider Tech Valley Communications received a Universal Broadband Access Grant from New York State. The grant monies have since been used to significantly expand Albany FreeNet, a free high-speed Wi-Fi internet service. Albany FreeNet is now available 24/7 in previously underserved neighborhoods. In the month of August 2010 alone, there were over 28,000 active user sessions on Albany FreeNet averaging three hours in length.
The Universal Broadband Access Grant also provides for digital literacy classes at neighborhood-based centers, as well as site-based job skill assessments and an orientation to New York Wired for Education’s “Metrix Learning” system. Metrix Learning is an e-learning system designed to enhance skills and prepare users for new employment opportunities. Participants in the Metrix Learning orientation will be given free e-learning licenses to access online job development courses, which are accessible via the Albany FreeNet portal and at www.ALLbanyOnline.com.
“Access to affordable high-speed broadband and closing all remaining digital literacy gaps will deliver positive benefits for a wide range of groups from children in education to citizens seeking skills to have secure families,” said Dr. Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, New York State chief information officer and director of the Office for Technology, which administers the Universal Broadband Access Grants. “Libraries and other community anchors with publicly available computers are often the only venue for delivering critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack internet access elsewhere. As chair of the NYS Broadband Development and Deployment Council, I congratulate Mayor Jennings and the city of Albany, the Albany Public Library, and Tech Valley Communications for significantly working to increase access to online resources and improving the lives of New York’s citizens.”
“Albany Public Library is already people’s neutral destination for help in answering the questions that matter most in their lives. And right now many of those questions are about using computers and the internet to find a job or get a better one. The BTOP funding greatly improves our ability to meet customers’ needs by providing computers, high-speed internet access, and the trained staff to help them use these free resources, like Metrix Learning, which are so vital in this challenging job market,” said Carol Nersinger, executive director of Albany Public Library.
The city of Albany continues to bear a disproportionate share of the economic downturn’s impact on the region: the unemployment rate in the city as of June was 8.2% compared to 6.6% for the entire county. Residents participating in ALLbany Online’s job development programming will have an opportunity to improve their business, information technology, and/or health care job skills, and be introduced to additional resources like job placement service offered by the Department of Youth and Workforce Services.
“Every Workforce Investment Board across the country is being overridden by increased demand from job seekers. ALLbany Online is a great opportunity to deliver a comprehensive service that will meet the need in multiple locations. The expanded use of Metrix Learning will provide an opportunity for thousands to enhance their skills in the pursuit of employment,” said Daniel Gentile, executive director of the Capital Region Workforce Investment Board.
“The goal is to provide every one of our citizens with opportunities to learn and grow online, especially our young people,” said Mayor Jennings. “We’re leveraging creative partnerships to transform professional, educational, and community engagement in our city.”
For more information visit www.ALLbanyonline.com
Photo courtesy of the Times Union