Tag: "e-rate"

Posted August 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative (CVEC) and local communications cooperative Citizens Connected are joining forces to improve Internet access in rural northern Wisconsin.

Collaborating For Connectivity

The two cooperatives recently announced that they will invest in fiber infrastructure to connect residents, businesses, and schools through a new entity called Ntera. Construction will start in Holcombe, population around 300, because it’s one of the communities with the worst Internet access within the CVEC service area. Construction in Holcombe should begin this fall.

Ntera will offer 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps) connectivity to premises in addition to voice and video. Rates have yet to be determined. CVEC’s service area includes approximately 7,500 premises within five counties. Citizens Connected has already invested in fiber infrastructure passing more than 3,200 premises.

Holcombe is a census-designated place in the town of Lake Holcombe, where the population is a little more than 1,000. Even though they’d like to, Lake Holcombe schoolteachers don’t offer devices to students because so many of them don’t have Internet access at home. Superintendent Jeff Matin says that more than half of the students don’t have Internet access because it isn’t available in their home or just too expensive.

The Lake Holcombe schools will use $80,000 in E-rate funding and state grants to connect to existing fiber in the community that will be incorporated into the larger network. Although the school district is obtaining funding to connect, the cooperatives are funding the network investment themselves. They have not yet released a final estimate for the cost of the project. School officials look forward to the educational opportunities the new fiber will bring:

Mastin is eager to have the improved broadband in the Holcombe area. Right now, there is Internet in the school building only.

“We’ll be able to have our community having easier access to the Internet,” Mastin said. “We could give (students) more devices to allow them to connect to it. It’s definitely needed for education in the 21st century.”

... Read more

Posted August 8, 2017 by lgonzalez

With a growing need for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, an increasing number of schools are constructing fiber optic infrastructure to serve their facilities. In some cases, they partner with local government and a collaboration eventually leads to better options for an entire community. Schools in Orange County, Virginia, will be working with county government to build a $1.3 million network.

Quickly Growing Community

Orange County’s population of approximately 34,000 people is growing rapidly, having increased by 29 percent between 2000 and 2010. Nevertheless, it’s primarily rural with no large cities. Gordonsville (pop. 1,500) and Orange (pop. 4,800 and the county seat) are the only towns. Another community called Lake of the Woods is a census-designated place where about 7,200 people live. The rest of the county is filled with unincorporated communities. There are 343 square miles in Orange County of rolling hills with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Manufacturing and retail are large segments of the economy with 65 percent of all business having four or less employees as of 2013. Agriculture is also an important part of the community, including the growing local wine industry.

Working Together To Connect The County

The county and schools have teamed up to commence a multi-step project that begins by connecting the Orange County Public Schools’ facilities. A 33-mile wide area network (WAN) will connect all eight buildings. Federal E-rate funds will pay for approximately 80 percent of the deployment costs and Orange County and the school district will share the remaining costs from other funding. The partners plan to deploy extra capacity for future uses.

Once the first phase of the network is complete, the county hopes to use the excess capacity to improve public safety operations. Sheriff, Fire, and EMS services need better communications so the county intends to invest in additional towers, which will also create an opportunity for fixed wireless and cellular telephone providers.

The OCBbA wants to eventually use the new infrastructure to improve access for residents and businesses. The network will be made available to ISPs interested in offering services in... Read more

Posted April 22, 2017 by lgonzalez

Public Knowledge recently released a video on changes in the new administration’s FCC policies. One by one, progress made during the last eight years is being sliced up and doled out to the detriment of ISP subscribers.

Public Knowledge describes the video like this:

This video draws attention to the growing list of giveaways by Congress and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai to large cable and telecommunications companies that act as local broadband monopolies.

The video, which functions as a broad statement of themes, uses a series of pie slices to detail what consumers fear about the new administration’s telecommunications policy positions, in general language. The pieces of pie reflect multiple potential giveaways being heaped onto big cable and phone companies’ plates.

From selling private data without consent and eliminating some companies’ ability to offer affordable broadband, to forcing consumers to rent set-top boxes and embarking upon efforts to kill net neutrality, FCC Chairman Pai and many in Congress are promoting policies that give consumers the short end of the stick.

Check it out:

Posted April 13, 2017 by lgonzalez

When a community is plagued with poor connectivity, it impacts residents, businesses, schools, and government. Several entities within a community sometimes band together to explore solutions. In Grand Island, New York, the Town Board and the School District are pooling resources in search of possibilities.

Chronically Slow

The town entered into a contract for Internet access with Time Warner Cable, which was purchased by Charter Communications; the company now serves the town under the name “Spectrum.” According to Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, he’s measured speeds in Town Hall, which dip as slow as 5 to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps). The cable provider claims that its speeds are 50 Mbps. "I can't find anyone who has had 50 Mbps, the fastest I've seen is 25," said McMurray. "Every week I receive screenshots from people complaining."

Grand Island (population approximately 21,000) is in the Niagara River and considered part of Erie County. The county is at the western border of the state with Canada; Buffalo is the nearest American urban center.

A Middle Mile Partnership?

The town and the school district have commissioned a feasibility study to examine the idea of investing in a publicly owned fiber-optic line through the middle of the island. The city hopes the investment will encourage more providers to move into the area and build out last mile infrastructure to serve the community.

School district representatives mentioned that they are satisfied with the service the schools now receive from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, but are in interested in the benefits of owning the infrastructure:

"By building their own infrastructure (the school district) will have at least as good as service as they do now, but they will own the lines," said McMurray of the potential for a partnership. "And by leveraging the power of the schools the municipal infrastructure will benefit as well. By involving the school this puts this into the realm of possibility."

Schools are able to use federal E-rate funding to build fiber-optic infrastructure. Partnerships like this - between school districts and local government - have facilitated municipal network projects in other communities. Schools in ... Read more

Posted November 17, 2016 by lgonzalez

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... Read more

Posted August 31, 2016 by lgonzalez

In late July, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) in which it found the telecommunications giant AT&T Southeast liable for a $106,425 forfeiture. The agency also ordered the company to return $63,760 of E-rate funds it described as “improperly disbursed.” AT&T overcharged two school districts in Florida and, in a response released last week, are trying to justify their pilfer by blaming the E-rate rules and the schools themselves, much as a criminal blames victims for being such easy targets.

Funded By Phone Users

E-rate funds are collected as a surcharge on telephone bills; the funds go to schools to help pay for telecommunications costs at schools, including telephone, Internet access, and infrastructure costs like fiber network construction. The amount a school district receives depends on the number of students in the district that qualify for free and reduced lunches; schools with higher numbers of low-income students are reimbursed at a higher rate. Given that many of our schools are funded through property tax rolls, this means that schools in poorer neighborhoods that are more likely to need help with their budgets receive the higher reimbursement rates.

According to the program rules, phone companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that participate are required to offer the “lowest corresponding price” to schools. Providers aren’t permitted to charge rates that exceed the “lowest corresponding price” or bid higher than that price on contracts to serve similarly situated entities if those entities are eligible to receive E-rate funds. School districts do not carry the burden of getting the lowest corresponding price - telephone and Internet access providers are responsible to ensure that they offer the lowest price in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the program. Between July 2012 and June 2015 alone, AT&T received $1.23 billion in E-rate funding nationwide.

Filching In Florida

In Orange County and Dixie County, AT&T charged the districts prices that were 400 percent higher than other phone rates in Florida, claims the FCC. Their investigation focused only on two types of telephone services. The FCC noted that when Florida deregulated phone services in 2011, AT&T “dramatically increase[d] its pricing.” According to the the NAL,... Read more

Posted August 16, 2016 by lgonzalez

Lake Oswego School District (LOSD) in Oregon is set to make an investment that will save up to $301,000 per year in telecommunications costs - its own dark fiber network.

To Lease Or To Own? There Is No Question!

LOSD is the latest in a string of local schools that have chosen to invest in fiber infrastructure for long-term savings. Caswell County, North Carolina, is also investing in dark fiber with an eye on the future. Because the school district will own the network, they will no longer be surprised by unexpected rate hikes, making budgeting easier. The money they save can be directed toward other programs and, because it is dark fiber, they are only restricted by the equipment they install and the bandwidth agreements they enter into with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Some schools choose to become ISPs themselves or join collaborations in which they can purchase bandwidth collectively to save even more. 

According to Joe Forelock, the district’s assistant superintendent for academic and student services, “This is a long-term investment for the health of the district over the next many, many years.” Once the network is in place, it will cost approximately $36,720 annually to maintain it, which is 89 percent less than what Comcast plans to charge LOSD for the 2016 - 2017 school year. 

We want to note that Comcast tripled their rates from the 2015 - 16 school year, in part because the 2016 - 17 contract was only for a year while the dark fiber network is being constructed. With no competition in the region, Comcast has broad practical authority to decide what LOSD will pay. “Right now, Comcast is essentially the only game in town in many communities," Morelock says, "including LO."

Clackamus County will install the $1.54 million network; 40 percent of the total cost will be reimbursed through E-rate, the federal program for schools that pays for Internet access and certain infrastructure expenses.

“After six years, if costs remain the same and do not increase, or decrease for that matter, the district will save $181,000 per year in connectivity costs with the E-rate discount, or $301,000 per year if E-rate were to disappear,” Morelock says.

Connecting In Clackamus

... Read more

Posted July 14, 2016 by alexander

Greenfield city officials and school administrators recently agreed to cooperatively build a fiber-optic institutional network (I-Net). The Milwaukee suburb of about 37,000 expects to trim thousands of dollars from its annual network bill and bring its students, teachers, and local government up to speed.

Dig Now, Save Now

Just like many communities across the U.S., Greenfield realized that it was paying too much to connect its community anchor institutions (CAIs) to the Internet. In April 2015, Greenfield school district approved a bandwidth upgrade with a private provider that would cost the schools $45,588 annually. Within half a year, they had already hit their new bandwidth limit. In November 2015, they needed to upgrade again to the tune of $119,141 per year. 

With classrooms and public institutions demanding increasingly higher bandwidth, local officials decided to ditch the incumbent providers to build a fast, affordable, reliable network in the coming semester. Their investment will allow them to make long-term budgeting decisions, direct more money toward classroom expenses, and use technology to offer rich educational experiences. 

Construction started in June on the fiber-optic network that will connect Greenfield school district, neighboring Whitnall school district, Alverno College, and Greenfield public safety buildings. With installation slated to finish by summer’s end, local institutions expect immediate savings. 

Financial Terms

The City of Greenfield, Greenfield School District, and Whitnall School District all applied for state trust fund loans through the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands of Wisconsin (BCPL). 

Michael Neitzke, Greenfield’s mayor, expects the town to repay it share - a $700,000 loan from BCPL - within 10 years thanks to annual telecommunications savings. The school districts anticipate even shorter repayment periods. Officials at Greenfield School District expect to pay off their loan within 4 years, according to Superintendent Lisa Elliot... Read more

Posted January 18, 2016 by htrostle

A recent series of in-depth articles from Education Week brings to light a persistent aspect of the digital divide: the lack of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity in rural schools. Throughout the country, schools struggle to pay exorbitant fees for aging copper networks. Teachers and students are cut off from digital learning opportunities as whole regions fall farther behind. Education Week brings these issues to the forefront - and community-owned institutional networks could be the answer.

The Education Week articles describes the harsh impact of these grim statistics. The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway found that for rural schools, the median price for connectivity is more than double that of urban or even suburban schools. Although the number of students without access to sufficient bandwidth has been cut in half since 2013, at least 21 million students do not have access to adequate connections. 

In extremely rural communities, large service providers do not have an incentive to build high-speed networks, and small private providers often cannot take on those high upfront costs. This leaves communities with no choice, but to pay skyrocketing rates for slow, unreliable Internet access over aging infrastructure.

East and West: Students Face Similar Challenges

The articles present two compelling case studies of Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Catron County, New Mexico, to tell the story of how high-speed connectivity is so often out-of-reach for rural schools.

Two schools in sparsely-populated western New Mexico split 22 Megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for $3,700 per month. An increase to 50 Mbps wouldn’t require  new fiber, but the upgrade would cost an extra $1,003.47 each month. The local provider has a de facto monopoly in the region so the schools have no choice but to pay the going rate; with no competition they have no leverage for negotiating. According to the New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority, monthly rates range from $1.35 to $3,780 for each Mbps of speed across the state.

In Calhoun County, the... Read more

Posted March 17, 2014 by lgonzalez

On February 27, the New America Foundation presented the live webcast, "Connected Communities in an Age of Digital Learning: A Vision for a 21st Century E-rate Program."

The webcast addressing the modernization of the E-rate program is now archived and available to view.

As technology advances, schools must find ways to keep up. At the root of their success is connectivity in the communities. From the announcement:

Yet many communities lack robust Internet connectivity, which is a key prerequisite to using these tools. Libraries and schools across the country report that they do not have the necessary speeds and equipment to support the digital learning environments of today, let alone tomorrow. Sustaining and upgrading the Internet infrastructure that supports these community anchor institutions is critical. And in addition to physical infrastructure, these communities need investments in social infrastructure: support systems in and around community institutions that help facilitate digital literacy, support broadband access, and encourage meaningful broadband adoption. 

The panel included experts in education, library science, and technology. Featured speakers were:

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