Schools cut 'Wired Road' ties

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The Carroll school system hopes to see more consistent service by dropping the regional provider. Educators say fiber optic connections will be more reliable than wireless.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Fiber optic connections to 10 locations, reliability and a lower price point were factors that led the Carroll School Board to sign up with a major telecom provider.
Century Link won the bid after the school board sought better service to its schools to support Internet and network communications districtwide, according to information from the schools. Technology such as SmartBoards, Internet applications and online testing caused significant growth in the bandwidth needed to run those programs.
The school board considered bids from Century Link, Citizens and NationsLine/Wired Road — its current provider — at the Dec. 14 meeting.
NationsLine provided proposals for all 13 sites, which included the school board offices, the physical plant and the Carroll County Education Center, using a combination of fiber connections and wireless service.
Century Link based its proposal on fiber service to 10 sites, excluding Laurel, Oakland and St. Paul schools. Citizens included eight sites in its proposal.
Quotes for wide-area networking services for the three companies came to: $31,900 per month from NationsLine for all 13 sites; $7,700 from Century Link to 10 sites with slower connections; and $4,000 per month to 800 sites with slower connections still.
Quotes for Internet services included: $2,370 for 45 megabytes of service from CenturyLink; $3,600 for 50 megabytes of service from Citizens; and $3,400 for 50 megabytes from NationsLine.
A committee of principals, teachers, other school employees and a parent recommended that the school board go with Century Link for both the wide area network and Internet service.
In a presentation by Principal Jerry King, the committee cited the 99.99 percent reliability, the importance of using fiber connections, the costs with support and service, the short 90-day timeframe for connecting to the locations and the qualifications and experience of the provider as factors affecting recommendation, according to information from the schools.
The committee also recommended that the school board issue a request for proposals for service to Laurel, Oakland and St. Paul.
The original request for proposals stressed the schools' request for more than 100 megabytes of service to each school site, schools Superintendent Greg Smith explained after the meeting. The new request will allow proposals for less than 100 megabytes of service, meaning connections using copper (instead of fiber) or DSL service.
In terms of reliability, Century Link impressed school officials by offering a cost rebate if service falls under 99 percent, Smith explained. The buildout to the schools to be served will not take much time.
"There was a surprising difference in the cost structure, which included Internet service and broadband," he added.
And with the bandwidth being provided to most of the school sites, this deal will position the district for data services for some time, Smith said. "The school board believes this will lay the backbone for our information network for many, many years."
The RFP for the remaining schools will seek to get them a comparable level of service.
The Carroll schools had been unable to receive E-rate reimbursement, prior to this action. E-rate can cover up to 70 percent of data network costs.
"Now that we've bid this out, we will be able to receive reimbursement," Smith said. "That is a great advantage."