Tag: "school"

Posted June 7, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

For the rest of the summer, Wisconsin could be the new battleground in the ongoing effort for big companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to secure their de facto monopoly positions.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable passed a bill effectively preventing communities from building next-generation networks offering services far superior to what TWC offered. Now AT&T and its allies in Wisconsin are trying to stop local governments, universities, libraries, and schools from using a buying coop -- called WiscNet -- to procure better connections than AT&T will provide, at lower prices than AT&T would charge. Why compete when you can outlaw the competition?

WiscNet is essentially a buying coop -- a public/private partnership connecting, among others, University of Wisconsin schools, local governments, libraries, and local public schools. As Barry Orton, Professor of Telecommunications at UW-Madison reminded me, buying coops are "great for buyers, not so great for the sellers."

In this case, sellers like AT&T want to kill the coop so local governments, schools, and libraries, are forced to buy the connections they need from AT&T or other incumbents. This will mean more tax dollars going to AT&T rather than educating students, connecting police stations, and generally allowing public sector institutions to function. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The motion prohibits the UW System from taking part in WiscNet, the network provider for 450 organizations, including K-12 schools, libraries, cities and county governments.

No one has any doubts that AT&T and its allies are squarely behind this measure.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with last-mile connections. WiscNet is not providing connections to residents. This is a question of whether local governments can use a network they build and operate collaboratively with other public institutions like UW or whether they have to take whatever AT&T is selling (many small towns only have a single incumbent offering these dedicated access connections).

Last year, we wrote about Republican opposition to a broadband...

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Posted March 8, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Salisbury's Fibrant network in North Carolina was recently praised in a letter to the editor of a local paper for improving the educational tools in schools. These networks can have a big impact on educational opportunities, from directly improving the connections to the schools (often at lower prices) to lowering the cost of broadband across the entire community, thereby increasing broadband adoption and giving a new educational tool to children in home.

Previously, when the computers in our lab were being used, the entire system was bogged down. We had to limit the use of video and Skype to class periods where the lab computers were not being used. With some programs, we were not able to have a full class on the computers at the same time.


Next up, we will be able to establish full connectivity between the main building and the kindergarten building. This will enable our phones, paging system, and file sharing to work together for the first time ever, and we are very excited about that!

Posted January 10, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Federal Communications Commission released the results of a survey of libraries and schools, the 2010 E-Rate Program and Broadband Usage Survey - announcement here [pdf] and full report here [pdf].

As critical as we are of the FCC, I would like to note that the FCC is doing a better job of collecting data than it did in the past.

I want to highlight a few interesting pieces from the report. Of the respondents, only 21% of schools and 13% of libraries have connections riding on fiber-optics. Half of schools and libraries are stuck on T1 lines.

Schools and libraries reported 63% and 65%, respectively, connections that were under 10Mbps. Considering these connections are likely serving many concurrent connections, they should have faster connections.

The vast majority want to have faster connections:

FCC Chart of those desiring faster connections

The question is why they want faster connections. Only 20% say their current connection completely meets their need to conduct online testing and assessment applications - with another 44% saying it "mostly" meets those needs.


These gaps represent a tremendous opportunity for growth - communities should be building their own fiber-optic connections to connect these key institutions and ensure they will have affordable, fast, and reliable connections well into the future. By owning the network, these institutions will have greater control over future costs and their capacity to take advantage of even newer applications.

The FCC should favor locally owned networks to encourage self-reliance instead of never-ending subsidies to private carriers who have little incentive to lower prices and increase investment.

Posted September 1, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Last night, I drove down to Winthrop (Sibley County) and then Fairfax (Renville County) to get a better sense of their discussions around next-generation broadband networks (originally covered here).

Throughout this week, they are having public meetings to discuss the potential project though the feasibility study is not yet completed. Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, author of the feasibility study, is in town talking with folks about potential approaches. However, he made it clear that there is no guarantee they will find a business plan that can work to cover all of Sibley County and the area around Fairfax. Stay current on their project from the Sibley & Renville County Fiber site.

Winthrop's City Administrator, Mark Erickson, is committed to serving the farms though. There is little doubt that the project could succeed financially by serving only the towns, which harbor some 80% of the population. But Erickson recognizes that the towns depend on the farmers and that everyone will benefit more from the network if it is universally available.

Many of the people in towns already have access to some basic broadband - either a slow DSL (in some cases so slow even the old super slow FCC broadband definition does not cover it) or a last-generation cable network from Mediacom. The cable television comes out of Dubuque though, so it isn't exactly local.

The project was originally conceived to cover Sibley County. However, a high school in nearby Fairfax has decided to use iPads [pdf] to revamp its curriculum and it would be a travesty to have such great broadband available across the county border when so many students at GFW have iPads but little access to true broadband.

Most of the area schools have continued to do what they can with basic T.1 lines - too little broadband (at too high a cost!) to really use any modern educational applications. And the mandated state-wide testing is a nightmare across these connections. The new network will bring proper broadband connections at affordable rates.


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Posted May 5, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

One of the focuses of the recent FiberFete conference is what do communities do once they have built a next-generation network. Lafayette had lots of ideas.

Let's start with counting new jobs. Lafayette Pro Fiber recently discussed one of the employers adding jobs. The post acknowledges that the fiber network is not the sole reason for these particular jobs, but it does play an important role:

You have to know if you've been down to "the egg" at the LITE building that they're not going to put 100 cubicle workers in that facility. No way they'd fit. However they do have to do the tedious work in Louisiana to get those credits. So some large percentage of those 100 workers will have to be off-site. But they'll have to be able to do their work as if they were in the same building with, at a minimum, the 100 megs of connectivity that standard ethernet LANs provide. That, of course, is exactly what LUS provides on its justly acclaimed 100 meg intranet. A person setting behind a nice workstation setup on Moss Avenue with a nice VLAN setup could work within the Pixel Magic network as if they were just down the hall from the boss's glossy corner office (something both would probably prefer). The ultimate in working from home. I'll not be surprised if Pixel Magic opts for an offsite work center like NuConn did—but there too LUS' fiber-to-every-nook-and-cranny make it possible to shop for the cheapest appropriate location rather than the cheapest location that has something close to real connectivity. In that sort of situation it would be easy and damned inexpensive to leverage LUS Fiber to provide a gig or several of commercial grade connection between the two points.

This is only one of several employers who have added many jobs in Lafayette because of the publicly owned fiber network.

Another avenue Lafayette is exploring is high-bandwidth classrooms. They have created a specific FiberKids program (which was discussed at FiberFete).

The project is intended to test live streaming, high-definition capabilities for school conferences, lectures and field trips.

Students are encouraged to explore the uses of fiber-optic technology in the classroom....

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Posted December 9, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Following up on my previous post "Institutional Networks and Cherry Picking," I want to briefly note that the U.S. should reform how it funds Internet connections at schools and libraries.

Let me start with an assumption: we do not want to use federal taxes to support these local institutions except where most necessary. It strikes me that wherever possible, communities should take responsibility for their own community institutions.

With that in mind, the eRate program concerns me. Basically, eRate is a means for the federal government to aid local schools and libraries in affording broadband. I'm afraid that it indirectly encourages monopolistic service providers (mainly telephone incumbents) to overcharge for T-1 lines while removing any incentive for the school or library to invest in a better connection.

If a school or library is only paying 20% of the cost of a slow and overpriced line, it has considerably less motivation to seek a better connection -- especially as the only alternative to an existing connection may be building new fiber paths - as noted in "Libraries dying for bandwidth."

But another problem is simple availability. As the ALA's report (PDF) points out, "moving from a 56Kbps circuit to 1.5Mbps is one thing. Moving from 1.5Mbps to 20Mbps or to 100Mbps or even to a gigabit—depending on the size and need of the library—is another." Even when they can pay for it, many libraries are finding that higher speeds simply aren't available.

This program has been around since 1998 and has paid out $25 billion. Imagine if the program had encouraged the schools and libraries to build their own networks from the start - a truly sustainable approach rather than an approach that brought slow broadband to these anchor institutions while rewarding telephone companies significantly overcharging for slow services.

Consider Joanne Hovis of Columbia Telecommunications Company -

In Montgomery County schools connected to a community-owned fiber network are getting access to 100Mbps speeds and paying $71 per Mbps per month, whereas neighboring schools not on the network are paying $2,000 a...

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Posted August 26, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

The July/August issue of Broadband Properties features a number of stories relating to community broadband. Editor Masha Zager explains how the stimulus rules hurt communities:

The NOFA explicitly calls 768/200 Kbps broadband “sufficient access to broadband service to facilitate rural economic development,” but how many jobs will this kind of broadband really attract to a depressed area? How many new services can service providers sell over such networks? Will the networks support public needs for distance education or health care? And how long will it be before the equipment has to be replaced? In the words of a rural telco manager I spoke with recently, “You want to put money into something long-term if you’re going to start building networks. Don’t build something you’ll have to throw away in two or three years.”

Steve Ross takes a look at two networks in Minnesota - the much discussed Monticello FiberNet and a proposed network in Lake County (see Lake County Fiber Network Project FAQ):

Lake County is a rural area in northeastern Minnesota. Its planned network requires 800 miles of fiber to more than 7,300 homes and 500 businesses – every premises in the area that has electricity or telephone service now. It’s the first project of National Public Broadband (www.nationalpublicbroadband.org), a nonprofit helping communities develop and operate municipal fiber networks. NPB’s CEO is Tim Nulty, director of the ECFiber project awaiting funding in Vermont.

Steve discusses the crap that TDS is pulling to again prevent competition in Monticello. Despite being laughed (albeit slowly) out of court in their attempt to stop the city from building a fiber network, they are now attempting to incite a bondholder lawsuit by spreading more FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Interestingly, Steve suggests that TDS' numbers do not add up and that they are advertising fiber services while offering advanced DSL (not that any other private companies have similarly lied).

Finally, I recommend...

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Posted June 11, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

Another real-world example of why communities cannot depend on the private sector to build the infrastructure needed by the community, Scottsburg Indiana suffered from telecommunications underinvestment and was about to lose jobs because the companies could not get the connections they needed.

This article reports that the cost of T1 lines was $1600/month but other sources suggested they were as low as a mere $1300/month. Nonetheless, the costs were prohibitive and benefits from building a publicly owned system were immense:

The total cost to build the city-wide network was only $385,000, a figure that includes all systems and software. The result is broadband everywhere at affordable prices, meaning that businesses that need broadband can get it, and sometimes even save money, too. For example, school officials estimate that they are saving approximately $16,000 per month.

Posted May 13, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

One early indicator of such “public” value is the fact that RUC’s fiber network now connects Reedsurg’s schools with more bandwidth than they had before, and at a lower price. Before the network was available, schools were paying $650-$750 a month for T-1 service, which delivers only 1.5 Mbps of capacity. Today, RUC provides 100 Mbps links between school buildings at a cost below $500 per month.

Posted May 13, 2009 by Christopher Mitchell

BVU's initial fiber deployment linked local government and school buildings. According to a study done at that time, this yielded annual savings of $156,000. Today, says Lane, some connections between local schools are operating at data rates as high as 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. The school's fiber links, he says, have enabled testing and other applications that could not be supported by the T-1 links on which they previously relied.


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