The Duval County school system in Florida can expect to save more than $900,000 a year on internet access, local officials say, thanks to a deal it negotiated with cable franchise MediaOne. In exchange for providing hub sites for MediaOne on school property, the district will get a high-speed network connecting more than 150 schools and administrative offices at no cost.

“We’ve crafted a pretty interesting situation,” said Scott Futrell, Duval County’s technology director. “It’s a good arrangement for both sides.”

The 15-year contract, which was approved by the school board in June, will replace the district’s current deal with BellSouth. Duval County now pays about $350,000 per year for a more limited computer network of 56K frame relay circuits.

The upgraded network will link every school and office building to the district’s hub via two-way T-1 lines, providing the district with a true routed backbone. The district will be connected to the internet through a 45 Mbps direct link to MediaOne. Once in place, the new network will transfer voice and video data up to 30 times faster than the old system did.

School-to-school calls

“Having that much bandwidth to each school, we could actually channel it to run voice as well,” Futrell said. “If someone were to make a school-to-school call, it would never have to leave the network. This will allow us to greatly reduce the communication costs for the district, as well as open the possibilities for video transfer.”

The planned upgrade would have cost the district about $925,000 per year in leased line service charges for the T-1s, Futrell said, if not for the district’s deal with MediaOne.

In return for a high-speed network with free internet access, the district will let MediaOne construct 10 buildings on school sites. The buildings will serve as regional hubs through which the company can expand its broadband cable service throughout the community.

Concerns resolved

School board and community members had a few concerns about the hubs, but they were easily resolved.

“We wanted to make sure [the hubs] were placed in areas that wouldn’t hamper any further construction on school buildings,” Futrell said. Also, the structures housing the hubs will be limited to 1,200 square feet and will have to conform with existing school architecture.

The district’s goal is to have every classroom wired. For that to happen, it still must acquire more computers and software and rewire many of the older buildings. But the deal with MediaOne essentially lays the groundwork for the district’s ambitious technology plan.

The contract requires about a fifth of all schools to be connected by the end of the year, Futrell said. The full system should be working within 18 months, he said.

Duval County Schools