RIVERTON – The LDS Church is working hard to provide Internet access to its members around the world this year.

Details of the global plan and its benefits were shared in a session of the two-day LDS Tech Conference Thursday at the Riverton Office Building.

“There is a big push to get the Internet into meeting houses in 2011,” said Derek Hays, a meetinghouse venue manager for the church. “Local leaders who have had the Internet in their buildings have felt it has been a blessing in the lives of leaders and members. The church wants to make those benefits and blessings available to more members in a safe and appropriate fashion.”

Some areas of the world have more Internet access in buildings than others, including the United States and Canada. There is a drive to significantly increase Internet access in Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific area.

Before the Internet, technology at LDS buildings consisted of satellite broadcasts, equipment for family history work and a PC for the ward clerk.

The church began installing the Internet in its buildings in 2004 for family history work. Additionally in 2008, local leaders were given the option to use local budgets to gain Internet access.

Since then the Internet has gradually become a standard facility and there are clear benefits to giving members access, Hays said. Approved uses of the Internet in LDS meetinghouses include family history research, managing member and financial data, webcasting stake conference and other similar meetings, watching general conference, using tools from LDS.org, teaching the gospel, and searching for employment.

Hays said church leaders love using the tools on LDS.org and smartphone applications to conveniently access member information. More members are also using multimedia tools in teaching. Mormon message videos and sharing excepts from general conference have become popular supplements to lessons, Hays said.

“Why read it from the manual when you can hear it straight from the prophet,” Hays said.

One looming challenge is poor infrastructure in third-world countries, but Hays says the church is working on that problem.

“It’s improving in every country,” he said.

The church has negotiated discounts with Internet providers, but will not agree to long-term contracts.

“We want to remain fluid as better options become available,” said Paul Scherbel, a meetinghouse technology engineer for the church.

During the session, Scherbel demonstrated how to install a meetinghouse firewall, which functions like a bridge to connect all computers in the building to an Internet service provider.

Webcast technology is another up-and-coming benefit for the church. Webcasting is a means of electronically linking meetinghouses for the purpose of holding stake conferences, firesides and training meetings.

The Internet has also been a faster means of getting general conference messages to remote parts of the world. Before, by the time the conference could be burned onto DVDs and shipped out, more than a month would pass before saints in Africa could watch and listen. Conference messages can now be downloaded within 24 hours and viewed within days.

“Consider the possibilities (of where the Internet) could take us in three or five years,” said Rod Hyde, a communications product manager for the church.

For more information on LDS meetinghouse technology, visit tech.lds.org.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com