Five school districts on U.S. Highway 14 between Huron and Brookings are kicking off 2012 with a big broadband boost that will offer students better, faster internet tools.
Broadband speeds have been increased to 10 Megabits per second (Mbps), more than three times faster than internet previously received by schools in Iroquois, De Smet, Lake Preston, Arlington and Volga. The increased capacity comes from SDN placing a fiber optic line to deliver the services. Previously the schools received service over telephone T1 copper lines, which are limited in how much bandwidth can deliver. The new service was turned up just before Christmas break.
The State of South Dakota’s Bureau of Information and Telecommunications purchases the 10 Mbps service for the schools. Each district has the option to subscribe to even more bandwidth at its own expense.
The schools’ technology coordinators say the faster service was noticed immediately by staff.
Iroquois School Technology Coordinator Bob Ninas says teachers have been anxious for the improved service, especially for online courses students take with Northern State University.
“Our connection was so slow that when students would try to do online tests, it’d take the whole class period just to load the test. Often they’d just end up doing the test on paper,” Ninas said.
The increased capacity has Iroquois looking at ways it can do online computer outreach in the community. Ninas will be investigating grant opportunities to create a community computer center.
Sioux Valley School Technology Coordinator Tim Holter in Volga said administrators at times couldn’t even send an email or download a document if teachers were showing students a video from a website.
“The computer would just sit and spin. I can’t tell you how great the increased bandwidth is for our school now,” Holter said.
Arlington School Technology Coordinator Mike Parry says he’s looking to get at least 20 more laptops into the hands of students now that they’ll actually function as they should with the increased broadband capacity.
SDN’s fiber construction to schools on Highway 14 and 300 more sites across the state is funded by a $20 million federal broadband stimulus grant and matched with another $5 million from SDN. The company, which is owned by 17 cooperative, municipal, family and tribal telephone companies of South Dakota, was among the first in the nation to begin construction on the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program. The grant is meant for delivering high-speed services to schools, health care facilities, public safety agencies and government offices that were under-served. The fiber line can also benefit private businesses that want to subscribe to services. SDN is not able to offer residential services.
“The Highway 14 corridor has always been on our to-do list,” said SDN Communications Chief Executive Officer Mark Shlanta. “The stimulus grant just helped us push up the timeline to get the work done years sooner. That’s the case with all 300 plus sites we’re touching with this grant.”
SDN has completed year two of the three-year program. It has until December to finish, but Shlanta expects the company will be done ahead of schedule.