THE LATEST TRENDS IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS - Week 5 NTC/360 - Network and Telecommunication Concepts May 14, 2005 FIBER OPTICS IN OUR SCHOOLS Fiber optic refers to the medium and the technology associated with the transmission of information as light impulses along a glass or plastic wire or fiber, about the thickness of a human hair. Fiber optic wire carries much more information than conventional copper wire, and is far less subject to electromagnetic interference. A single glass fiber can carry the equivalent of 100 channels of television or 100, 000 telephone calls, with even more capacity possible by encasing many fibers within one cable. Fiber optics was developed by Bell labs and Corning in the late 1960 s. It does not experience signal degradation over distance as would coaxial cable. School districts are aware of the need for the upgrades to fiber optic cabling, but costs frequently preclude the upgrade.
Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rulings in October of 2004, that relieved incumbent local exchange carriers from having to share fiber networks that reach within 500 feet of homes, have led to plans by Bell South to boost fiber deployments. Concern among competitors is that their ability to compete for business voice service will be hurt. (Quesada, 2004). But while the un bundling protection for fiber-to-curb is a blow to competitive local exchange carriers, Bell South plans to increase deployments of fiber-to-the-curb by 40 percent in 2005, a move that will help decrease the cost for local school districts. Since any installation of new wiring is labor-intensive and costly, it is little wonder that school districts lag behind the corporate world in obtaining this superior technology. School districts are rarely provided with enough state and local funds to expand current technologies to encompass such upgrades.
There are numerous programs and opportunities in place, however, that will allow even less affluent school districts to keep pace. One such program is called the Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries, or more simply, "E-rate." E-rate was created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and is the discounted rate that schools and libraries pay for access to affordable telecommunications services. It was passed with the help of such politicians as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Newt Gingrich. The Act gave the Federal Communications Commission the power to expand universal access so that schools and libraries would be Internet wired. (Carolan & Keating, 1999). Since then, the trend to sign up for E-rate has swept the country.
In 1999, Merrick and North Babylon students in Long Island, New York, discovered internet access when their schools opened, and Massapequa voters approved a multimillion-dollar bond issue that included Internet connection costs. (Carolan & Keating, 1999). Today, even districts with children living in poverty can benefit from the E-rate program, and obtain discounted rates for the telecommunications projects. A local school district in the Chicago suburbs is currently in the process of updating their official Technology Plan, which is one of the requirements to ensure their continued enrollment for E-rate.
The need is real. Older technologies are so unreliable, that Dowagiac school district in South Bend, Indiana claims that the service of their current set-up is slow, unreliable, and has high recurring costs. It does not allow buildings to transmit data among themselves, and eventually that would mean it would be unable to communicate with the Berrien County Intermediate School District, which handles all student accounting for Berrien and Cass county schools. Further, the district feels that a DSL network would not be reliable enough, while a T 1 line would have high recurring costs. The only recurring cost attached to the fiber-optic solution would be the rental of poles that would carry the cable. That cost is estimated to be $200 per month.
Dowagiac currently pays $2, 000 per month for Internet access. (West, 2004). Other school districts are turning to local politicians with their quest to cover the expense of fiber optics. The Cherokee school district in Atlanta, Georgia has obtained the addition of a penny sales tax. Because of this additional tax, it has been able to provide a fiber optic network, as well as wireless technologies necessary to support the more than 100 mobile laptop labs now available in the district. (Reinolds, 2004) Partnerships with local vendors are another way school districts are obtaining funds.
The Jenks school district in Tulsa, Oklahoma is the proud recipient of a new all-fiber-optic network built by SBC Oklahoma. They are calling it the Customized Solution Metro Ethernet. The network links all the district's school and service buildings with 100-megabits-per-second service. SBC and Jenks began collaborating on the project in the summer of 2004. Angela Ever sole, an SBS senior account manager said students can now participate in streaming-video "virtual field trips," which require more bandwidth than the district could previously provide. (Brown, 2005).
Example of districts turning for fiber optics abound. One of the larger challenges that has faced a local school district is convincing the Board of Education that it is necessary. It is sometimes difficult to convince a non-technical board that the high cost of the changeover will pay for itself within a few years. They frequently focus only on the bottom line number, which can be alarmingly high. The Chicago area school district is working hand-in-hand with SBC to provide the new cabling, set to be in place before the opening on the new magnet school in August of 2005. The new building, located in a nearby village, will also house the District Administration offices, including Human Resources, Accounting and Payroll, and the Superintendent's offices.
Knowing that all the Administrative offices need to be fully able to communicate with the three schools in the district, has helped convince the Board of Education that the future of technology in this district is in their hands. The future is here. REFERENCES Brown, K. (2005, May 1). Schools in Jenks are picking up the pace: [Final Home Edition].
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Carolan, M. & Keating, R. (1999, May 11). $$$ for school internet but little for the soul: [All Editions]. Newsday (Combined Editions), p. A 38.
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20, Iss. 3: p. 4. Reinolds, C. (2004, November 18). School board touted for technological flair Cherokee no.
1 in state for computer proficiency: [Home Edition]. The Atlanta Journal - Constitution, p. XJ. 1. Retrieved May 13, 2005, from Business Dateline database. (Document ID: 737858051).
West, M. (2004, October 26). Schools plan internet changes; Dowagiac board opts for fiber-optic network. South Bend Tribune, p.
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