Los Angeles County residents who rely on public libraries for internet access will soon have a much faster wireless connection, thanks to $5 million in federal funding announced Tuesday.

Public computers and Wi-Fi access are some of the most used library resources, but internet access has been slow, with an average speed of 10 to 20 MB per second.

County libraries will now be able to offer speeds of up to 1 GB per second by connecting to a high-capacity network that serves major research and education institutions statewide: the California Research and Education Network.

“Because a large percentage of our customers come to the library for Wi-Fi and computer access, increasing the quality of our technology is essential to removing digital barriers,” Library Director Skye Patrick said.

Residents from many low-income communities cannot afford home internet access, creating a “digital divide” for students who aren’t able to access educational materials online and for other family members who miss out on information that could help improve their lives.

Patrick said she hoped the change would draw more library users.

“Our current network quality is not at the level that our customers expect or deserve. This grant will allow us to upgrade our infrastructure to provide a high-speed internet connection, enabling our customers to learn and explore at a much faster pace, while hopefully also attracting more foot traffic to the library,” she said.

The upgrade comes as the use of online resources is increasing dramatically. The library system has been used for more than 1.8 computer sessions, 1.7 million Wi-Fi sessions and demand for e-books, digital magazines, music and movies has also surged, a trend that is expected to continue.

The money to upgrade the network at 87 county libraries comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, which funds broadband and internet services at eligible schools and libraries.

The county library system has also increased the number of computers at many locations and simplified the Wi-Fi log in process. The upgrade is expected to take place this year.

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