Improved Wi-Fi connections could be coming to the South Lane School District schools which fall near or beyond the city’s limits — Al Kennedy High School, Dorena School, London School and Latham Elementary School — perhaps as early as this school year.
Last year, technology administrator Jesse Baber applied for federal funding from the Universal Service Fund (USF). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funds the USF by charging telecommunication companies a quarterly fee which is then seen as a charge on consumers’ phone bills.
The USF then funds four different programs with the goal of universal service. One of the programs is for schools and libraries. If SLSD receives the funding, the schools that are not in town would have improved wireless connections.
“These schools don’t have any sort of commercially available internet that we can get. A number of them are done over radio. The one to Dorena goes over two radio hops. One of those hops has no power so it’s solar and propane. And as you can imagine, during the testing season it’s always a little tricky to make sure that stays on,” said Baber to the board at Monday’s school board meeting.
As of now, London School has a 20-megabit connection for the whole school.
Baber reported that if they received this funding, this number would grow to 10-gigabits which is 500 times more digital storage than they have now.
“I guess a good way of explaining is it is right now [Kennedy, Dorena, London and Latham] are very out of town and with this addition, it’s as if they become an in-town school from my perspective,” said Baber.
To implement the fiber optic cables and get this all ready for the schools to use would cost an estimated $1 million. The USF would fund 80 percent and the state of Oregon is expected to cover 10 percent.
The rest may be matched by an additional state organization and if not, there are some funds set aside for technology from the 2016 bond.
Douglas Fast Net (DFN), who had representatives at the meeting, would be in charge of the installation process and are already getting prepared.
“We’re a little ahead on this one because it’s such a large project and so we’ve been out doing the pre-engineering,” said DFN’s manager Todd Way. DFN currently provides internet for 14 school districts throughout Douglas County.
In addition to impacting the schools, DFN would then offer to provide faster internet for residents who live in these areas.
“There’s a certain amount of capacity in the fiber – so many strands that have to be dedicated to the school. Any additional capacity beyond that, that I choose to put in, I cover the incremental cost which is really insignificant to the whole project. So, I will use that to fiber the homes along the routes,” said Way.
The district is expected to be notified by mid-September or October if they are recipients of this federal funding.
“According to (Universal Service Administrative Company) it is the most denied application. But with my consultant, we did a lot of work. They put out a lot of documentation because they don’t want to see these get denied about what it is they want to see,” said Baber. “I very much followed their best practices and so I’m hoping (we get it). The likelihood is high but you just never really know.”