Tag: "school"

Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.”

As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.

Even before the current crisis, the “homework gap” meant that 7 million school-age children did not have Internet access at home, hampering their ability to get an education. Now, the digital divide is being thrown into even starker relief, as students struggle to access online classes and school districts grapple with equity concerns.

Though it isn’t a permanent solution to the homework gap, these community institutions and providers hope that the emergency Wi-Fi access will give students on the wrong side of the divide a chance to learn while schools are shut down.

Students Trade Desks for Cars

Earlier this week, the American Library Association (ALA) recommended that libraries leave their Wi-Fi turned on and accessible while facilities are closed. In a press release, ALA stated:

America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net . . . The COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students...

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Posted March 17, 2020 by lgonzalez

When Paul Revere rode through Concord, Massachusetts, to warn the Colonists about the Red Coats, horseback was the fastest way to move information. More than 240 years later, the community that was so instrumental to founding of the United States as we know it now sends information via their own fast, affordable, reliable Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. This week, Concord's former CIO Mark Howell joins Christopher to talk about the community and their investment.

Mark discusses the community's history and the story of the network, which includes their reasons for investing in the infrastructure. He talks about the local citizens' enthusiasm for the project and what it was like to go from operating an electric utility to adding Internet access for the public. Mark also discusses the funding mechanism that Concord used to pay for the project and shares a few of the many benefits that the network has brought to Concord and its people.

Christopher and Mark review the reasoning behind the different service offerings available to subscribers and the rationale behind choosing these tiers. They also talk about some of the challenges Concord has faced and Mark gets into the possibilities of regional efforts in order to maximize the possibility of reaching more households.

Read more about the network in the 2017 report published by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, ...

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Posted February 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

Almost six years ago, we told readers about Ottawa, Kansas, where the community of around 13,000 people had invested in publicly owned fiber optic connectivity for local businesses. We recently touched base with IT Director Paul Sommer, who updated us on the progress of their broadband utility and how it has impacted the community.

Steady as it Grows

When we first met Ottawa, they had worked with the local school district and Franklin County to capitalize on existing fiber infrastructure and expand to more locations. Local leaders had learned from Ottawa businesses that the best options available from incumbent AT&T were T1 lines for approximately $600. Higher capacity connections were scarce and financially out of reach for local establishments, and AT&T could not be convinced to upgrade their infrastructure. As Bigham put it, AT&T was "milking the cow."

Once the city, school district, and Franklin County established a partnership, Ottawa began to expand fiber to other municipal facilities and businesses as requested. Sommers, who has taken over as IT Director, says that now all 10 city buildings are on the network. In addition to an industrial park on the original infrastructure on the north end of town, the network now reaches an industrial park to the south.

The electric utility has trained their own staff rather than hiring external fiber deployment personnel. In addition to enriching skills, their employees are able to respond quickly if there are downed cables or other maintenance issues. Sommers recalls an instance when a car, which had caught fire, sent shrapnel flying into the air. By a twist of fate, one piece severed the fiber optic cable hanging some distance away. His team was able to rehang and splice the cable that same day and get the subscriber back online.

By using electric utility staff, Ottawa has reduced the cost of their incremental build over the years. They typically budget around $100,000 each year for expansion of the network, have never gone over, and often don’t spend the entire allotment. Sommers says that, since they own the utility poles in town, have necessary personnel on hand, and equipment at the ready, unnecessary bureaucracy doesn’t slow down maintenance, repairs, or expansion efforts.

Bursting at the Streams

...

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Posted July 23, 2019 by htrostle

Grays Harbor County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state has just finished a fiber optic network to local schools and a local industrial park. The county has been strapped for Internet access, and this network is the first step in developing better connectivity to many of the homes and businesses along the route. Elected officials are also exploring new ways to encourage last mile connectivity.

The Need for Internet Access

The options for high-speed Internet access are limited in Grays Harbor County, Washington. About 74,000 people live in there, and about 78 percent of the population reports having some form of Internet access at home, but it's likely those that live in the rural areas don't have access to "broadband" as defined as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC defines broadband as 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload) that meets certain other technical standards. While satellite Internet access continues to improve, satellite connectivity is still expensive, unreliable, and describing it as "broadband" is a stretch.

The FCC's data paints the situation in Grays Harbor County as similar to other areas where those living in rural areas have poor or no Internet access and many within small- or medium-sized towns have little or no choice. About 13 percent of the population have no access to broadband, and another 53 percent live under broadband monopoly. This means there is only a single provider for those people. Approximately 27 percent have a choice, but it is limited to two providers and typically between competing technologies, such as cable and DSL.

logo-grays-harbor-PUD.jpg The numbers are even starker for rural areas and tribal lands: 29 percent of premises have no access...

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Posted August 22, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

Just outside of Detroit, Michigan, Grosse Pointe communities and institutions are considering whether to work with local Internet service provider Rocket Fiber to build an institutional network (I-Net).

The Grosse Pointe suburbs, or “the Pointes”, are composed of five independent municipalities situated along a strip of land northeast of the city, jutting slightly into Lake St. Clair. Their network, tentatively called the Grosse Pointe Area Educational Telecommunications Network (GP EdNet), would connect schools, libraries, and municipal buildings with 10 Gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds.

If the cities and institutions all approve the arrangement, they would form a consortium, consisting of the City of Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods, Harper Woods, the Grosse Pointe Public Library, and the Grosse Pointe Public School System.

Under the current plan, Rocket Fiber would build the institutional fiber network for the public partners and provide maintenance for 20 years. The consortium would own and provide voice and Internet services. During construction, the ISP would also lay down its own fiber in order to offer Internet services to nearby residents and businesses at some point in the future.

Rocket Fiber has estimated total cost for the 14-mile long GP EdNet at under $3 million. Participating communities and institutions would split the core expenses but each would be individually responsible for financing the connections from their own buildings to the main fiber ring.

Schools Leading the Way

Under the leadership of Superintendent Gary Niehaus, the Grosse Pointe Public School System has propelled the project forward by rallying support in the various communities and issuing the initial RFP. Niehaus has wanted to build a community...

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Posted February 23, 2018 by lgonzalez

Ammon, Idaho, has received a lot of attention in the past couple of years for their innovative approach to improving local connectivity with a publicly owned fiber optic network. Back in 2015, the city received an award from the National Institute of Justice Ultra-High Speed Apps: Using Current Technology to Improve Criminal Justice Operations Challenge for their “School Emergency Screencast Application”. We covered the award and the application in detail but wanted to share the story once again.

Improving the ability to monitor what’s happening in our kids’ schools is only one factor that can contribute toward making them safer, but every step helps. Ammon’s application uses gunshot detection hardware and a school’s existing camera system. It reports gunshot fire and provides live video and geospatial information to dispatch and first responders.

Hopefully, Ammon first responders will never have to use the application in anything other than a test, but the technology can be shared with other communities and can potentially save lives and reduce injuries by quickly ending any incident. Without their top-notch fiber optic network, Ammon would not have this incredible public safety tool.

Check out this video on Ammon’s School Emergency Screencast Application:

Learn more about Ammon's fiber optic network and their strategy to improve connectivity throughout the community:

Posted January 11, 2018 by lgonzalez

As schools across the country look at their budgets, Janesville, Wisconsin, has decided to cut their future expenses with a fiber optic investment. This spring, the district will use E-rate funding to help finance a fiber optic local area network (LAN) in order to cut telecommunications costs by $70,000 per year.

Connecting Facilities

The school district will install 12 lines, eliminating leased lines and the associated expense. E-rate funds will pay for $1.6 million of the estimated $2 million project; the school district’s contribution will be approximately $400,700 and an additional $225,000 for engineering and project fees. School district officials calculate their contribution will be paid for in nine years. Fiber optic networks have life expectancies upwards of 20 years and in Janesville, District CIO Robert Smiley estimates this project will last for 50 years.

At a recent Board meeting, Smiley told the members that the new network will be like transitioning “to our own private Interstate.” In addition to better prices, the new infrastructure will allow the district to ramp up speeds to ten times what they current share between facilities. The system Janesville School District uses now has been in place since the 1990s.

The federal E-rate program started during the Clinton administration as a way to help schools fund Internet access and has since been expanded to allow schools to use if for infrastructure. School districts obtain funding based on the number of students in a district that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Funding for E-rate comes from the School and Libraries Program from the Universal Services Fund.

“Hello, Savings!”

Like many other schools that have chosen to switch to a district owned fiber network, Janesville sees a big advantage for voice communications. Due to the age of their phone system, they’ve had failures in the past. Last winter during a day of inclement weather, a large volume of incoming calls from parents overloaded the system and other parents who had signed up for emergency alerts on their phones didn’t receive them. With a new fiber network, the school district will be able to switch to VoIP.

The Greater...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...

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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.”

...

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