How are schools connected these days? Fiber. Why? State Cooperatives!

Last week after I wrote about Minnesota schools needing legislative support to pay their broadband bills, someone suggested that maybe schools could realize some savings by moving away from T1s to fiber. A great idea – that’s already been realized in most districts across the state.

With the help of colleagues from Minnesota Education Technology Networks (METN), representing regional cooperative networks across the state, I’ve learned that most schools have already made the move to fiber. It sounds like the networks are mostly fiber with some supporting carrier-class microwave. There were a few small libraries at the far ends of the network that still used some T1 and wireless last mile solutions.

There are two main reasons that schools are as well poised as they are. First, most school districts are part of a consortium. The consortium helped them get to fiber by recognizing the opportunity, setting the goal and aggregating needs. Second, the funding for Internet/broadband access has always been strong for schools and libraries – between eRate and State support. In the past the costs were covered – when folks can apply and aggregate. Funding has been there and schools have been smart about how to get it.

Pete Royer at Little Crow Telemedia Network was helpful with some of the background that gets us to today…

Thru cooperative purchasing and Cooperative formation years ago we have been able to get great Internet bandwidth we need at reduced rates. Cooperative purchasing and group cooperative (60+ school districts on one RFP) purchasing has allowed us to get great rates on bandwidth. But a lot of the reasons schools have Fiber is that back in the late 80’s and early 90’s many schools joined cooperatives for distance learning on fiber. Those fiber paths which generally were due to local and regional Telcos joining together to aid rural schools were put in the ground. Many to towns that today would be underserved were connected to fiber. Now that fiber is a life line for broadband.

A recent report from SETDA indicates that state support is needed to catch up the schools that are at the far reaches and keep the others on track…

The report highlights the pivotal role state leaders and policymakers play in helping districts and schools implement high-speed broadband and wi-fi in schools. This kind of connectivity is necessary, the authors note, to help connect students to high-quality digital learning opportunities.

The report also indicates that there’s still work to be done…

The report reveals that connectivity for schools has improved since the FCC modernized its E-rate program; however, 41 percent of schools have not yet met the FCC’s short-term goal that delivers at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 users, and few schools have met the long-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users for connectivity capable of supporting digital learning applications. Out of school access remains an obstacle to overcome as 10 percent of Americans nationwide lack access to speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads/3 Mbps for uploads and nearly
40 percent of citizens in rural areas and tribal lands lack access to adequate broadband.

One of the big problems is the discrepancy in costs. Annandale Public Schools – 100MB connection $2730 per month through Windstream while Kimball Public Schools 9.5 Miles away – 100MB connection $1199 per month, thru Arvig. We can’t expect Annandale schools to take that on themselves.

This entry was posted in education, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

One thought on “How are schools connected these days? Fiber. Why? State Cooperatives!

  1. Ann–

    The same is true for public libraries across the state. K-12 schools and public libraries have been working together since 1995 to build these networks. As you point out, schools and libraries formed consortiums across the state and have worked with providers for years to build better networks and reduce costs. Funding for these networks has come from the State of Minnesota as well as local school districts and regional library systems.

    While library networks are strong, the 12 MN regional library systems applaud the BTB Broadband efforts and are most aware of the unserved and underserved areas of the state, as those folks are regular users of their public libraries Interent access.

    Peg Werner

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