The Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) plans to save $150,000 per year by investing in its own fiber infrastructure. Over a 20-year period school officials expect to save approximately $3 million.
Fiber For Education And Savings
MCPS will be the first in the state to self-provision its wide area network (WAN), the connections between district facilities. Right now, the school pays approximately $287,000 per year to lease its WAN connections and for Internet access; about $200,000 of that figure is dedicated to leasing the WAN.
School officials were already leasing lit fiber service when they began investigating options to compare cost and service. They also looked at leasing dark fiber, which would mean they would need to maintain the equipment to light the fiber themselves, and investing in an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU). The IRU would give the school district the ability to use a designated number of fiber strands to use as they wished for a fixed period of time.
As other school districts around the country are discovering, the best choice for them was to own the infrastructure and control it themselves:
"We're saving the district $3 million over the next 20 years in the general fund that will be able to be allocated to other things," Littman said of self-provisioned fiber. "It's more than $3 million, actually. The reason we say we'll only end up saving the general fund $3 million in the end is because we do have some annual maintenance costs to incur to protect the fiber."
Leasing lit fiber for the speeds MCPS needs would have cost $1.5 million to $3.1 million for only a five-year contract. A dark fiber 10-year contract would have cost about $3 million.
Right now, the school pays approximately $287,000 per year to lease its WAN connections and for Internet access; about $200,000 of that figure is dedicated to leasing the WAN. The school will still need to contract for Internet access from an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Lake Oswego School District in Oregon recently discovered the cost benefits from ownership, when they discovered they would pay 89 percent less by self-provisioning than by leasing from Comcast. School districts sometimes partner with municipalities and integrate school fiber assets for larger municipal fiber projects, as in the case of Ottawa, Kansas. Whatever the future holds for MCPS, they will be saving significantly and having an easier time budgeting without the threat of rising leasing costs that they can’t control.
E-Rate Cutting Cost To Community
The cost of the project is $3.2 million, but the district has applied for an E-rate reimbursement for $1.8 million. E-rate, the federal program that helps school pay for telecommunications costs, now allows schools to apply funding to infrastructure investment. Each district's reimbursement rate is based on the percentage of students considered lower-income. Last year, voters approved $158 million in bonds reports the Great Falls Tribune, and the plan was included in that figure; funding for the project appears secure.
Speed For Students
The 21-mile, underground network will have an immediate impact, reports the Missoulian. The WAN will connect a total of 21 MCPS facilities when it’s completed and increase speeds from 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 Gigabits (1,000 Mbps) per second - a 100x capacity increase on the WAN.
Even though construction is not complete, students are already feeling the impact:
In Sentinel High teacher Dan Lande's networking class, students conducted a speed test and found their network was pushing close to 1 gbps. He emailed MCPS' technology staff, shocked by the increased speed.
"We were able to renegotiate our agreement in the last nine months with one of our providers to increase speeds to 1 gbps," [Hatton Littman, director of technology and communication] said. "We had a signed contract with them three years ago, and the price we were paying for 200 [Mbps] was closer to the market price of 1 [Gbps].
"It was the geek version of watching a room full of kids watch the touchdown-scoring goal of the Super Bowl. They were so excited about seeing the data transmission speeds we could accomplish."