Tag: "school district"

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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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...

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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 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 ...

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Posted April 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems allow utility systems to gather and analyze real time data. The computer system reduces outages, keeps the utilities running efficiently, and allows staff to know where problems arise. Municipal utilities that use SCADA systems are increasingly taking the next step - using the fiber-optic infrastructure that supports SCADA to bring better connectivity to town. Clarksville took that route and is now considering ways to become one of the best connected communities in Arkansas.

"I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore"

As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is located in the northwest area of the state along I-40 and is home to just under 10,000 people living at the foothills of the Ozarks near the Arkansas River. The area is known for its scenery and its tasty peaches and every summer, the county holds a popular Peach Festival. The nearest urban areas are Little Rock, about 90 minutes to the east, and Fort Smith about an hour west. 

Large employers in the community include University of the Ozarks, Tyson Foods, Haines, and Baldor, a motor and control manufacturing processor. There’s also a Walmart Distribution Center in Clarksville.

When he began as General Manager of Clarksville Light and Water (CLW) in 2013, John Lester realized that one of the challenges the municipal electric utility faced was that it did not have a SCADA system for managing the electric, water, or wastewater system communications. Even though the Clarksville utility system was well cared for and managed, a SCADA system could push it to the next level in efficiency and services.

Lester had been instrumental in optimizing the use of the fiber-optic network in Chanute, Kansas, which had been developed for the municipal utilities. He understood the critical nature of fiber connectivity to utility efficiency, public savings, and economic development. Over time, the Chanute network had attracted new jobs, opened up educational opportunities for K-12 and college students, and created substantial savings. 

logo-peach-fest.jpeg In Clarksville, the utilities commission...

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