dark fiber

New toolkit to help schools increase fiber connections, affordably

A CoSN resource aims to help school tech leaders navigate new E-rate rules allowing for the use of dark fiber

District technology leaders looking for guidance around how to leverage the expanded fiber connectivity opportunities in the E-rate program might find help in the form of a new toolkit from CoSN and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Sixty-eight percent of district technology officers in a recent CoSN survey said their school systems don’t have the bandwidth to meet connectivity needs, but the toolkit is an attempt to give those technology leaders guidance as they try and meet ever-increasing bandwidth demands.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2014 took major steps to update the E-rate program, including increasing its annual funding to $3.9 billion, up from $2.4 billion. In 2016, E-rate applicants can start applying for discounts for dark fiber and self-provisioned fiber, which, ed-tech stakeholders say, gives schools more flexibility as they try to meet connectivity demands.

“Fiber is generally accepted to be the only communications medium that can meet the bandwidth needs for all but the smallest school systems, but how schools acquire fiber connectivity in the most cost-effective manner will depend on the unique circumstances of each district,” the authors write.

Next page: The toolkit

Maximizing K-12 Fiber Connectivity Through E-Rate: An Overview, comes at a time when schools are feeling a bandwidth crunch, the organizations said–K-12 broadband demands are growing at a rate of more than 50 percent per year.

Lit fiber, which was already eligible, refers to a model where the school neither controls the fiber network nor is responsible for the network’s operations and management.

Using dark fiber, schools lease unused fiber from a provider, construct a fiber line to connect it to the school, and attach the equipment needed to use the fiber for communications. Operations and management costs vary.

Self-provisioned networks involve schools building new fiber networks without using existing fiber optic cables. Schools own those networks and are responsible for operations and management costs.

“School system leaders need to carefully consider the high-quality connectivity options that are available and can best address their needs. The new resource navigates the E-rate landscape and points district leaders in a direction to begin taking advantage of the program’s significant offerings,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, and co-author of the toolkit.

The toolkit comprises three parts:
• Part One, which provides an overview of the E-rate program and the types of fiber eligible through the program. Through case studies, it also shares how three school systems managed their fiber connectivity challenges.
• Part Two, which describes important considerations for schools to assess their options. It also includes an additional case study that details how a school district’s E-rate reimbursement for a fiber “self-build” could support wider fiber build-out.
• Part Three, which issues a call to action for school systems to begin taking measurable steps toward deciding on and making effective use of today’s fiber connectivity options.

“Communities across the nation need world-class Internet access. The expanded options for fiber network construction allowed under E-rate make it particularly important for school, municipal and county leaders to coordinate with one another,” said David Talbot, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and co-author of the toolkit.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione
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