Tag: "education"

Posted October 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

School districts in both urban and rural communities are taking steps to help students stay competitive as technology becomes an integral part of learning. As they develop laptop programs, school districts must also contend with the problem of unaffordable, unreliable, and slow Internet access at students’ homes. In Columbus, Mississippi, the local municipal electric utility is collaborating with the school district to bring Internet access to students after school hours.

One Missing Ingredient

Schools in Columbus, Mississippi, have been implementing technology as a standard learning component for the past several years, and have established a program to provide tablets and laptops for each high school student. As they continue to expand the program, they face a problem that other communities face when high-quality connectivity isn't widespread or affordable: many school kids in Columbus still don't have Internet access at home. In Columbus, affordability is the chief barrier. Without connectivity, one-to-one device programs can never achieve maximum success.

In October 2018, the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD) approached Columbus Light and Water (CLW) and asked if the municipal utility could find a way to use its fiber infrastructure to extend the school’s Internet access beyond school facilities. CMSD wanted to allow students to connect past school hours. CLW general manager Todd Gale and CLW examined the possibilities and determined the project to be feasible.

logo-CLW-MS.png CLW will use its existing fiber optic infrastructure and add about two more miles of fiber to reach specific areas of the school district. When examining the addresses of students on a map, they discovered that many students live within close proximity to housing authority and public park locations. The utility has been able to identify five specific locations that will have the most impact as hotspots. Each hotspot should provide up to a one and one-half mile radius of fixed wireless access.

"We chose five locations, and those five in particular, because that's the number it would take to give students adequate coverage given...

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Posted September 19, 2019 by lgonzalez

Rural tribal communities in the U.S. struggle with some of the worst connectivity in the country. Decades of neglect have put them even farther behind other rural communities, many of which are moving toward community networks rather than depending on national Internet access providers. The most isolated tribal community in the continental United States has chosen to shrink their disadvantages by establishing a community network.

Within the Canyon

The Havasupai Indian Reservation, home to about 600, is surrounded by the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Having populated the region for centuries, the federal government restricted them to the reservation, an area of about 518 acres in Havasu Canyon, in 1882. Non-Indian ranchers, settlers, and miners started takng over the area in the 1870s and Executive Order confiscated the Havasupai homelands for public use. After the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park and generations of persistence, the tribe finally won back more than 188,000 areas of plateau and canyon lands in 1975 through an Act of Congress.

The community, on the floor of the Grand Canyon, can only be reached by helicopter, or an 8-mile hike that starts 67 miles away from the nearest town. Mail is still delivered by mule.

Seeking Spectrum

That persistence is paying off again as the Havasupai Tribal Council focuses their attention on broadband access. They're collaborating with nonprofit MuralNet to connect the main residential area in Supai, where about 450 tribal members live. The nonprofit's mission is to assist tribes like the Havasupai develop infrastructure to obtain high-speed Internet access. 

orangewireless_2.jpg In the spring of 2018, the tribe obtained a temporary Educational Broadband Service (EBS) Spectrum license. MuralNet, local ISP Niles Radio, and Northern Arizona University have all contributed toward the effort to launch the community network. Niles Radio provided 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) backhaul at no charge in addition to volunteering to help with deployment. With MuralNet professionals and volunteers from the community, the LTE network was up and running within a day. Equipment costs for what MuralNet describes as the first phase of the network were $15,000. As a result, a few...

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Posted March 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

Before the days when Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink were some of only a few ISPs for subscribers to choose from, much of the country received Internet access from small Internet access companies. In episode 297 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with one of the pioneers in bringing the Internet to everyday folks, Gary Evans. Gary is retired now, but he spent many years developing a company that is now known as Hiawatha Broadband Communications, or HBC.

HBC began more than 20 years ago in Winona, Minnesota, in the southeastern area of the state. The company evolved from an initiative to bring better connectivity to the community’s educational institutions. Since then, it has expanded, spurred local economic development, and helped drive other benefits. During its growth, HBC has always strived to work for the community.

logo-hbc.jpeg Gary and Christopher reminisce about the beginnings of HBC, the challenges the company faced, and how they overcame those challenges. They also discuss some of the interesting partnerships that helped HBC continue to grow and that Gary and other HBC leaders used to develop the company’s culture. Gary’s been in the business a long time, and he has some great stories to tell, so we decided to make this an extended episode that runs a little over an hour.

For our second conversation with Gary, listen to episode 302 of the podcst.

You can play the show on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript of this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music...

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Posted January 5, 2018 by lgonzalez

People living at the Arlington Mill Residences in Arlington, Virginia, are on track to obtain no-cost high-quality connectivity this fall, likely through the ConnectArlington network. The initiative is an example of how one local community plans to use its publicly owned Internet infrastructure to reduce the digital divide on its home turf.

The Homework Gap

Within Arlington Mill’s 122 affordable units, live 159 children; approximately half of the residences do not subscribe to an Internet access service. Because homework is increasingly dependent on a child’s ability to work online, kids at Arlington Mills must contend with the problem of finding access to computers and the Internet. For households that do subscribe, no-cost Internet access would free up monthly resources from $50 - $75 per month.

The Department of Technology Services (DTS) and Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development (CPHD) are collaborating to support the Arlington Digital Inclusion initiative. The initiative will start in Arlington Mills by providing free Wi-Fi to each unit and will eventually move to other properties owned by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). As the program moves forward, the city plans to seek out private donations and other grants to reduce the digital divide. The program will also be exploring ways to help residents obtain reduced cost or free devices or computers to take advantage of the high-quality connectivity. APAH has already applied for a 2019 Community Development Fund grant to cover the cost of training and notebook computers for residents.

APAH expects to choose an ISP that will use ConnectArlington, the county's dark fiber network infrastructure.

The network began offering dark fiber services to business customers in 2015, but the infrastructure has been in place since 2012. Arlington took advantage of several infrastructure projects, including traffic control upgrades and other public safety improvements, to expand its fiber footprint. In 2014, Christopher spoke with Jack Belcher, who shared ConnectArlington's backstory, for episode 97 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast....

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Posted June 20, 2017 by lgonzalez

The City and Parish of Baton Rouge recently released a Request for Information (RFI) as a way to seek out partners interested in helping them improve local connectivity. Responses are due August 4.

Vulnerable Residents A Priority

According to the RFI, reliable connectivity is not consistent or affordable in many areas of the community where populations need it most. Unemployment is higher than the national average and the community has approximately 26 percent of city residents and 18 percent of parish residents living in poverty. Community leaders want to use the network infrastructure to bring more opportunity to people living in the most poverty-stricken areas of the City-Parish. Economic development, better educational opportunities, and better connectivity at home are only a few of the goals Baton Rouge intends to meet.

As part of the vision described in the RFI, City-Parish officials point out that they want a tool that will enable citizens to be participants in an updated economy, not just consumers of a new data product. Some of the factors they prioritize for their network is that it be community-wide, open access, financially sustainable, and offer an affordable base-level service.  The network must offer gigabit capacity.

Baton Rouge intends to ensure lower income residents participate in the benefits that will flow from the investment; they are not interested in working with partner who doesn’t share that vision. From the RFI:

The City-Parish intends to offset service costs for its most vulnerable residents through a subsidy program that will allow certain portions of the population to purchase service at a discounted rate. We expect respondents to this RFI to be prepared to build to and support those customers—many of who may never previously have had a broadband connection. This initiative may also entail the Partner(s) sharing cost and risk associated with providing low-cost or no-charge service to some customers.

Baton Rouge

Some of the area’s large employers include the Exxon Mobil Refinery, Nan Ya Plastics, and Dow Chemical. There is also an emerging tech industry that community officials want to nurture with better connectivity. Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane University have medical campuses and there are nursing...

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Posted May 3, 2017 by KateSvitavsky

The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCSID) will lower their telecommunications costs and improve Internet service through an agreement with the City of Colleyville to build Internet infrastructure to K-12 schools. The City of Grapevine will serve as the construction contractor for the project.

High Cost Of Incumbent Services

GCISD leased lines from AT&T for $200,000 per year in order to obtain 1 gigabit connectivity. When they needed upgrades for the school district's Wide Area Network (WAN) at the two high schools and the main Network Operations Center (NOC), prices increased. After the upgrades, GCISD’s annual costs went up to $300,000 and school officials expected prices to continue to rise. When GCSID needed to increase the capacity of their WAN and NOC circuits, estimates for the upgrade came in at $1.85 million per year.

Rather than continue to pay such high costs, GCSID has entered into an interlocal agreement with Grapevine and Colleyville to jointly construct the network. The new solution will offer them a minimum 10 gigabit capacity for lower long term costs.

GCISD Executive Director of Technology Lane Hunnicutt said:

“By partnering with the City, the district is able to save more than 50 percent on installation of the new fiber optic cables. Additionally, since the City is enabling the district to own our own fiber, we will no longer be reliant on a third-party provider for monthly service and maintenance."

Network Logistics

The $5 million network will stretch over 57 miles and is financially supported by the City of Grapevine, the City of Colleyville, and GCISD. The project will be completed within five years and the school district expects a return on its $3 million investment in three to five years. Grapevine and GCISD has dedicated Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) dollars to the project, and each party is responsible for financing infrastructure on their property. Grapevine's role as contractor reduces the cost of the project significantly.

About Institutional Networks

...

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Posted March 28, 2017 by htrostle

Pennsylvania’s state barriers won’t stop this community from improving Internet service for its municipal facilities, residents, and businesses. The City of Lancaster is collaborating with private provider MAW Communications to ensure the community has next-generation technology. Their public-private partnership, LanCity Connect, will offer affordable 1 gigabit (1,000 Megabits per second) service over a new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Shared Risk, Public Financing

The Lancaster Online has closely followed the development of the partnership from a 2015 Wi-Fi project between the partners to the current citywide fiber plan. Here's a quick summary of the basic framework of the partnership: 

MAW Communications originally built a $1.7 million fiber backbone starting in 2015 with financing from the city's water fund bond. The city had refinanced its water utility debt, saving some $7.8 million and they worked out an agreement with MAW where the private partner would deploy and own a backbone fiber network. Over the 20 year term of the deal, the city has the right to half the network for city services, including automatic meter reading (AMR) and a traffic control system, with the city being able to renew the deal for four additional terms. Officials have said this arrangement will not impact water rates.

MAW Communications will extend the network to premises, aided by a $1.5 million loan with a 7 percent interest rate from the city's general fund reserves. The provider will repay the loan over a 13 year period. As long as MAW Communications has an outstanding loan to the city, the provider cannot sell the network without the city's written approval. Though the loan will help MAW to begin building the network, the costs of connecting homes and businesses would still be prohibitive at $1,000 each if not for another element of the plan.

The city developed a creative way to spread that $1,000...

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Posted March 16, 2017 by lgonzalez

In 2014, Mozilla and the National Science Foundation (NSF) created the Gigabit Community Fund to help local communities test new gigabit technologies. This year, projects in Eugene, Oregon, and Lafayette, Louisiana, will receive awards from the fund. Each community will receive $150,000 $300,000. Organizations that want to apply for the funding with their project ideas need to submit applications by July 14, 2017.

Learn more about the application process and the award at the Gigabit Communities website.

The recent announcement described the reasons for adding these cities to the list of past winners - Chattanooga, Kansas City, and Austin:

Why Eugene and Lafayette? Mozilla Community Gigabit Fund cities are selected based on a range of criteria, including a widely deployed high-speed fiber network; a developing conversation about digital literacy, access, and innovation; a critical mass of community anchor organizations, including arts and educational organizations; an evolving entrepreneurial community; and opportunities to engage K-12 school systems. (emphasis ours)

Check out this video on Mozilla and the Gigabit Community Fund:

Update: After publishing this story, we received the official news release from the city of Eugene and the Technology Association of Oregon, which provided a little more information. Specifcally that grants usually range from $5,000 - $30,000 and that the pilot period is typically 16 weeks. You can read the news release here.

Posted March 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

For local schools, finding ways to cut costs can be challenging but allows more money to be spent directly on students. While trimming small costs here and there adds up, eliminating leased lines from telephone companies and making the change to VoIP phone systems can be a big savings with improved service. Pitt County Schools in North Carolina are one of the latest to upgrade and save big.

Goodbye Copper, Hello Fiber

The district owns a fiber optic network and has ditched copper wire telephone service in favor of a new VoIP system at nine of its facilities. The cost to replace the phone system at those facilities was $32,000 but the district reclaimed $13,000 so far by eliminating the need to lease copper phone lines.

District officials plan to replace all the phones in the district with a fiber based system at a cost of $210,000, pending the availability of funding. They estimate annual savings will be approximately $107,000, so the project will pay for itself in less than two years.

More Than A Trend

Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) in Maryland and Austin's public schools in Texas found that switching from traditional phone lines to VoIP supported by fiber saved their districts significantly. CCPS began saving approximately $400,000 per year when they partnered with the county and several other entities to develop the Carroll County Public Network (CCPN). Austin Independent School District (AISD) collaborated with several other entities in Austin, Texas, and AISD’s investment in their network paid for itself in less than 3 years. In 2011, AISD estimated they saved almost $5.8 million in telephone and Internet connectivity avoided costs.

It's Not All About The Money

In Pitt County, school officials are finding better service is an added benefit:

In addition to saving money, the new phone system offers a variety of features, such as online call history and voicemail, an easier system for connecting calls to classrooms, better call quality and a...

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Posted February 23, 2017 by lgonzalez

Schools in Greeneville, Tennessee, are about to save on Internet connectivity to the tune of $50,000 per year, thanks to a partnership with the municipal electric utility.

Local Utility, Local Solution

Greeneville City Schools (GCS), which obtains Internet access via the state’s Education Networks of America (ENA), used to obtain cable connections from big providers that worked with ENA. Comcast and CenturyLink are two of the local providers that lease lines to the schools with ENA as the entity that arranged the connections. Not anymore.

GCS, ENA, and the Greeneville Light & Power System (GLPS) have entered into a new partnership to use GLPS fiber-optic infrastructure to bring Internet access to school facilities. As a result, the school will cut telecommunications costs by approximately $50,000 per year and double their capacity.

Assistant Director of Schools and Chief Technology Officer Beverly Miller told the Greeneville Sun:

“GCS is extremely pleased and excited about moving network fiber optic cabling dependence to the local community power provider. GLPS is an exceptional electrical provider with a stellar reputation for reliability and high performance. In addition to the expectation of improved service, the school district anticipates significant financial savings as a result of this new partnership.”

According to GLPS General Manager Bill Carroll, the utility already had significant infrastructure in place, which it uses for its own facilities. Connecting GCS schools and administration facilities wasn’t a difficult undertaking. In fact, GLPS hopes to reproduce the plan for the Greene County Schools to reduce their costs in a similar fashion:

“We have 2,200 miles of high voltage (power) lines and just 60 miles of fiber, mostly in the city,” Carroll said. “We’ve been routing fiber very carefully to pass by government buildings, schools and other folks we can serve in the future. At some point, we can do the same for Greene County’s schools and government buildings, but it’s a matter of logistics.”

Starting With The Schools

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When local schools reduce costs by partnering with municipal utilities...

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