DAILY INSIGHT: Bandwidth outside of the box

By Steve Smith, CIO Advisor

Given the growing demands for adequate bandwidth in our schools, I thought it might be helpful to share some creative solutions. All schools are unique; each with its own demographics, resources, politics, values, physical features and locations.

No single solution will fit all schools or even most schools. These suggestions are just ideas that are somewhat outside the box and may help some schools find solutions to their bandwidth issues. If one reader finds a useful solution to his or her particular situation then the article was worth writing. (Editor's note: Please let us know in the comments below if this happens.)Assuming that the ability for a district to run fiber to each of its buildings to create a high-capacity WAN/LAN would contribute significantly toward solving their bandwidth issues, here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider researching Utility Pole Rights in your town/community. Some cities and towns retain rights to attach to utility poles—regardless of who installs the pole. These rights may take some researching and investigating to find. At my previous district in Maine, I was able to uncover such rights granted to the town via each pole lease permit dating back to the early 1900s. These lease permits granted the city rights to pole space for emergency and communication purposes. The town used this space to run fiber to all city buildings and schools, creating a private, high-capacity fiber network.
  • Leverage cable re-franchising opportunities to secure private fiber. This will require buy in from the city leaders as to the importance of a physical infrastructure for the city and schools. You can expect a lot of push back from the cable vendors as to what they are willing to provide, but the bottom line is the city has a lot of leverage at the time of franchise renewal as this contract provides a great deal of income to the cable companies who already have a huge investment in infrastructure in your city.
  • Negotiate with other telecom providers who are looking to your municipalities for permits to run underground conduit. In exchange for the rights to run the conduit in city streets, utility companies are likely to provide space or fiber in these same conduits for city/school use.
  • Partner with local colleges and universities. If you are lucky enough to have an institution of higher education within your district's service area, it may be a great resource for assistance with both connectivity and bandwidth. These organizations may already be utilizing infrastructures near your schools that you may be able to leverage to provide the needed capacity. Colleges are often very open to partnering with K-12 on projects like this.
  • Research Internet 2 options near or within your school district. If there is a presence anywhere close, the Internet 2 may provide very affordable high-capacity bandwidth for your district. My current district leveraged a partnership with a local university to facilitate a 1Gbs connection to Internet 2.

I'm sure there are other unique solutions in place. I would encourage any district struggling with connectivity and bandwidth to think outside the box and take a hard look at what options and resources may already exist in your municipality and leverage the unique organizations and relationships that already exist to solve this issue.

Steve Smith is CIO of the Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter as @ssmithcambridge.

Steve Smith is CIO at Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, Mass., an active leader in the Student Data Privacy Alliance, and a member of A4L’s board of directors.