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Not so hot spot! Wifi at library’s new technology hub painfully slow

The Brooklyn Paper
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It would be faster using a card catalogue!

The glitzy new Information Commons at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch has everything a tech-savvy bookworm might want — with the exception of reliable internet connection, that is.

Wifi at the much-hyped $4-million facility is so painfully slow that some library regulars say they must log on elsewhere if they want to get anything done.

“I used to work a lot there before the new space but now I’m working more at home,” said Rafael Martinez, a graphic designer. “I need to upload and download heavy files constantly and it’s very frustrating to not be able to do so at a regular pace.”

The library system, which increasingly uses technology to attract Brooklynites through its bronze and glass doors, opened the digital hub to great fanfare last month, touting a sleek working atmosphere complete with meeting rooms and a 36-seat “wireless learning lab” designed to lure laptop users, freelancers, and job-seekers out of their borough’s well-connected cafes.

But an independent investigation by this newspaper found the wireless service — the lifeline of any freelancer worth his MacBook — feels more like dial-up.

The wireless network at the Information Commons dropped a reporter for this newspaper three times in 15 minutes on a recent weekday, and some websites did not load for minutes. Checking e-mail was impossible, and connection to an outside server was completely out of the question.

A weekday morning test revealed download speed to be 1.97 megabits per second and the upload speed 1.77 megabits per second — a snail’s pace, experts say.

“For most people that is excruciatingly slow,” said Tom Hollingsworth, a wireless engineer who runs the blog the Networking Nerd. “Ten megabits per second is what I consider to be a modern internet connection — that’s the minimum that people want to use in order to stream videos and download pictures.”

Tests done at a nearby 20-something’s apartment revealed download speeds of 18.7 megabits per second and upload speed of 7.34 megabits per second.

Library visitors might even be better off using smartphones to surf the net: Hollingsworth said that phone wireless service on 3G networks typically range between 8 and 15 megabits per second.

Highly connected Brooklynites say they don’t visit the library to feel unplugged.

“It’s kind of a shame to deter people from coming because the internet is so slow,” said Anna Levy, who sends proposals and cover letters from the library a couple of days a week and says that it occasionally goes out in 10 to 15 minute blocks at a time.

And the employees at the help desk said there was nothing they could do.

“It’s just slow,” said a librarian.

But fear not freelancers, help is one the way.

After being contacted by this paper, a library spokeswoman confirmed that the internet was a problem — and that it would soon be getting a much-needed overhaul.

“The number of wireless devices connecting to the Central Library’s wifi has more than doubled over the past year, from 2,023 in Feb. 2012 to 5,377 in Jan. 2013,” the spokeswoman said, promising an improved “Ultra” service from Cablevision was on the way in two to three weeks.

Brooklynites said their disappointment stems from the fact the Information Commons was billed to be the library’s digital future — not just another bank of late-’90s Dells.

“If it was on the second floor, I’d be like, ‘Whatever, it’s the library,’ ” said Levy.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.
Updated 5:39 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Or from Yellow Hook says:
Stripes and plaids! No wonder it's slow.
Feb. 7, 2013, 11:05 am
Adele says:
I was there yesterday (Thursday, Feb 7th) and everyone was complaining about how slow the connection was, it truly was impossible to get any work done.

But what I found astounding is that I went to the information desk in the Information Commons to tell the librarian and she looked at me perplexed and said, "my internet is running fine". DUH, information librarian, you are on the secured wireless connection "BPLStaff"., the rest of us are using the unsecured connection. Given her stupidity I asked her for the password....no luck though.
Feb. 8, 2013, 8:59 am
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Bluto...is that you?
Feb. 8, 2013, 9:14 am
Melissa, BPL Info Commons from Prospect Heights says:
Sorry to all who have been experiencing frustration with the wireless Internet access in BPL’s Info Commons. As stated in the article, the library is working with Cablevision to increase the capacity in the new space. (And Cablevision’s testing here yesterday – Thursday – further aggravated the problems with the wireless speed.)

Honestly, we will never be able to offer wifi as reliable as what you would get in your home or an office without competition from so many devices, but we are doing our best to improve the system so that it can be as fast and functional as possible given the demands on the network. We're now averaging over 500 devices a day at Central Library. Before we opened the Info Commons, we had never averaged over 400!
Feb. 8, 2013, 4:08 pm
Sara says:
Dear Melissa,
thank you very much for posting this update and letting us know about the wifi capacity issues. There are many of us who are excited about the digital media classes and the access to an incredible array of digital media applications. Hence the turnout, which is a wonderful confirmation that the library is relevant and needed by our community. The new Information Commons space is just beautiful, and the librarians are lovely to work with, a truly wonderful place to work and learn.

What was a bit frustrating though was the fact that the librarians truly acted as if they didn't know there were connectivity issues, meanwhile according to numerous library patrons the issue has been ongoing for the past few weeks. So thank you for addressing the issue and trying to make the needed capacity improvements. One thing that may help is to also provide ethernet ports as an alternate way to connect to the internet, while not the fastest it can be a great backup. Hopefully by next week it will be improved!

Thanks very much,
Sara
Feb. 9, 2013, 12:46 pm
Britt from Brooklyn says:
Oy vey. Well it's been about a month since that article and I am sitting here wishing and hoping for the internet to work. The internet at my house is out and I thought for sure I could come to the libraryto get some speedy internet! Oh boy how I've regret my travels here. Is there another connection I could log into? I very much dislike using my phone for internet uses.
March 28, 2013, 4:32 pm
Matt from Park Slope says:
Went there today and found no service of any appreciable kind anywhere except the dedicated info commons space. A very kind staffer told me that the culprit was the architecture of the building, which at least had the virtue of being a thoughtful response, even if it was a highly unlikely one. The commons was better, but so jam packed with shoulder-to-shoulder freelancers that it was pretty much pointless to attempt to work. Why not skip the establishment of a commons altogether and simply upgrade the entire building's data service? Perplexing and frustrating, but be advised that in 90 percent of the building, it is impossible to work.
April 10, 2013, 10:25 pm

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