Tag: "school district"

Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.

Fiber Just a Few Feet Away

The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project. 

Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...

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Posted April 23, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, schools have shifted to distance learning after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread school closures and stay-at-home orders. But many students still can’t get online to learn. A recent survey of Los Angeles Schools found that 16 percent of students don’t have access to broadband and that 15 percent had not yet spoken with teachers.

To connect students on the wrong side of the digital divide, school districts in a number of cities, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, are working with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families in need of home broadband connections during the crisis.

In a press release, Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, said of the program:

As we transition from a traditional brick and mortar school experience to one that takes place online, it is more important than ever that we make every effort to remain connected to our students who rely on us for not only academics, but also essential needs and social and emotional supports. . . This partnership will allow us to stay connected to our students who need us most.

Schools Sponsor Student Service

To help ensure all students can access online education while schools are closed, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to pay the monthly cost of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for eligible households. The school systems will distribute promotional codes to families who can then contact the company to sign up for broadband access at no cost.

SFUSD logo

Internet Essentials is Comcast’s affordable broadband plan for low-income households that qualify for a variety of public assistance programs. The program currently offers speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In response to the...

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Posted March 5, 2020 by lgonzalez

This is episode number six of the special podcast project we're working on with NC Broadband Matters to share North Carolina news, challenges, and innovations about broadband in their state. 

Christopher went on a trip in February to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. The event addressed a wide range of topics, including digital equity, legislative efforts, and the homework gap, which is the focus of this week's conversation with Dr. LaTricia Townsend and Amy Huffman. Dr. Townsend and Christopher discuss her work and the research at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, especially their findings related to the homework gap. Amy, who is the Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager at the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, describes more state specific data and some of the efforts happening at the local and state level.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png We learn more about how, as schools embrace technology to ready students for adulthood, they must also grapple with the problem of ensuring those students have the technological tools they need to make use of that innovation. Dr. Townsend describes some of the challenges that local schools face in both urban and rural regions and the creative methods they're using to overcome those challenges. Amy explains some of the reasons North Carolina's children can only move forward on bringing technology into their schoolwork and presents state-level policy recommendations aimed...

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Posted November 22, 2019 by lgonzalez

Located in the far north of New York State and with only around 3,700 residents, Tupper Lake can enjoy the Adirondacks and natural beauty. Spectrum Cable and Verizon offer services in the community, but community leaders are exploring better options. The only way to begin is at the beginning, of course, and their Broadband Committee recently launched a survey for residents and business owners.

According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

The survey will be mailed out to around 120 businesses already near the Development Authority of the North Country’s existing fiber optic line, and residents can fill it out online by visiting tupperlakeny.gov and clicking the “take the survey here” link before Dec. 31.

The 11-question survey is described as an “exploratory first step” in fiber optic expansion. DANC has already brought fiber optic internet access to Tupper Lake schools, the Wild Center nature museum and the Municipal Park, so the initial lines are already in the ground. 

The committee includes volunteers from local businesses, government, and community development organizations.

Fiber optic infrastructure from schools and other community anchor institutions have served as the foundation on which other communities have expanded networks to businesses, municipal facilities, and households. The federal E-rate Program provides funding to schools for telecommunications expenses, including infrastructure deployment, and is based on the percentage of students in a district that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Places such as Ottawa and Chanute in Kansas both developed fiber optic networks for economic development with school fiber as an important foundation. Chanute decide this past summer to extend its publicly owned fiber infrastrucutre to two residential neighborhoods in order to develop a pilot Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) pilot project.

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 August 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

Hillsboro, Oregon, has decided that fast, reliable, and affordable Internet access is a top priority. As they continue to fine-tune their fiber optic network plans, community leaders recently announced pricing and speed tiers for HiLight, expected to launch in 2020.

$55 Gig!

This summer, the Hillsboro City Council confirmed proposed pricing to reflect the community's commitment to bringing high-quality Internet access to each premise; HiLight will offer symmetrical gigabit Internet access for $55 per month to residents. According to the Oregonian, the rate is about half what Comcast charges. HiLight will also provide a 4 gigabit option for $300 per month, which is comparable to Comcast’s price for 2 gigabit service.

Subscribers will also have the option to sign-up for VoIP services for $20 per month, but the utility will not offer video.

Low-income households will be able to subscribe to gigabit service for $10 per month, but the community is still working out details for eligibility. Comcast’s plan for similarly situated folks allows Internet access at 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) download while providing slower upload speeds.

Like many other publicly owned networks, Hillsboro plans to offer symmetrical service to allow subscribers to take full advantage of fiber optic connections. With the ability to send as well as receive data-intensive files, subscribers are more likely to work from home, complete distance learning educational programs, engage in telehealth apps, and partake in innovative technologies.

The Timeline

The city plans to take an incremental approach and dedicate about 10 years toward completion of citywide deployment while avoiding debt. Hillsboro has decided to allocate around $4 million each year for the next 7 years toward the build. City financial experts estimate the network will begin generating revenue in 11 years and will pay for itself in 17 years.

Construction is already in progress in the Sourh Hillsboro neighborhood, a new area of town where approximately 8,000 new homes are being built, allowing crews to install conduit and fiber simlutaneously. Next they plan to...

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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 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 August 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

Early last year, the city of Steamboat Springs in Colorado took advantage of an opportunity to expand from an earlier public infrastructure investment. A state grant has allowed them to connect five community anchor institutions for better connectivity and cost savings.

Partners In Progress

In 2016, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) awarded the community $748,000 toward the cost of a fiber backbone across the length of the city. In order to complete funding for the $2.22 million project, the city and its other partners, the Steamboat Springs School District, Routt County, Colorado Mountain College, Yampa Valley Electric Association (YVEA), and Yampa Valley Medical District contributed matching funding.

Five community anchor institutions (CAIs) are now connected to the backbone, including the local U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices, the YVEA offices, and the school district building. The school district is also housing the communities publicly owned Carrier Neutral Location (CNL), which the city created in 2014.

The CNL Started It All

The CNL is a space owned by a neutral party - in this case the Steambot Springs School District city of Steamboat Springs - where broadband providers can connect to each other. Middle mile and last mile providers can connect to each other in these “meet-me rooms.” The partners in Steamboat Springs are saving because they’re paying less for bandwidth and, because the school district is hosting the meet-me room, there is no need to pay for a separate facility. In Steamboat Springs, Northwest Colorado Broadband connects with Mammoth Networks.

Community leaders hope the presence of the CNL and the fiber backbone will attract last mile providers to invest in Steamboat Springs so residents and businesses can obtain better connectivity in the future

"The benefits of the fiber optic project will be ample, redundant, more...

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