Districts Get Creative to Build Faster Internet Connections

Val Anderson hollers orders to a crew member while they install fiber-optic cable at the Butte high School Career Center in Montana. The new fiber-optic network will deliver faster Internet connections to 12 city school buildings. —Jeremy Lurgio for Education Week

Desperate for access to high-speed fiber-optic cable that can meet their demands for bandwidth, and frustrated with the ways in which federal regulations and large telecommunications companies often get in the way, some districts are getting creative.
Fiber is generally regarded as the fastest, most reliable, and most adaptable vehicle for satisfying schools’ huge appetite for more bandwidth, but only about 40 percent of U.S. districts are believed to have direct fiber connections to an Internet service provider, based on the most recently available data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Many districts have also struggled to establish internal fiber connections among all of their schools. Experts say changing those realities is the surest way to realize President Barack Obama’s goal of bringing high-speed Internet connections to nearly every school within five years.  But because installing fiber-optic cable entails significant upfront costs, large telecommunications companies have declined to build out such networks in many rural and remote sections of the country, leaving districts such as Butte with few existing options to tap.  Making matters worse, districts are prohibited from using federal E-rate funds to build and manage their own fiber connections to the Internet.

This spring, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote on revisions to the E-rate program, the culmination of a long-awaited overhaul. It remains unclear if and how the provisions related to fiber-optic cable will change.  In the meantime, districts from Montana to Virginia to New York have become increasingly proactive in finding ways to connect to fiber despite the challenges.

Read the entire article by Benjamin Herold in Education Week at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/01/15/17fiber_ep.h33.html

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