The city’s school district will potentially undertake a $4 million project to modernize internet connectivity in every classroom by setting up wireless access points throughout its 54 schools.
Jose Correa, interim director of network technology at the district, said the project will be made possible by the federal E-Rate program which will reimburse the district three quarters of the cost.
The district will end up paying $1 million while the federal government will cover $3 million, according to Correa.
However, before that can happen, said Correa, the district has to prepare a bid package and make an application to the Universal Service Administrative Company at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by the September deadline.
The commission has set aside $1 billion to encourage adoption of Wi-Fi technologies in libraries and schools. The e-rate modernization program instituted last year aims to close what the federal government calls the Wi-Fi gap and encourage schools and libraries to transition away from legacy technologies, according to the FCC.
Correa said the district is ill-equipped for the future. “That current infrastructure will not carry us to the next 20 years,” he said. He said at present classrooms have a wire corner which has Ethernet cables to connect devices to the web – except, he noted, with the ubiquity of tablets and smartphones no one uses wire connections to access the internet. “We’re moving to a wireless world. No one is plugging in their cellphone, their laptop, or their surface to get internet access,” he said.
The district should submit its applications in March of next year, Correa said, so as to take advantage of the available funds. The district is a prime candidate to receive funding to modernize its internet infrastructure via the program with its large population of free lunch qualifying students, said the interim director.
“The money is on a first come, first served basis and if we don’t take advantage of this now then it’s our loss,” said Correa.
The district already takes advantage of one piece — category one — of the E-Rate program to receive heavy discounts on its internet and phone bills. 73-percent of the public schools’ phone and internet costs are reimbursed by the federal government, according to the district.
Category one allows reimbursement for telecommunications, telecommunications services, and internet access, according FCC. A second category allows reimbursement for internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections, and managed internal broadband services – all things that deliver internet access in a library or school.
Correa wants to take advantage of second category with his plan to equip all classrooms with Wi-Fi technology.
School board members welcomed the idea of equipping classrooms with wireless access, but appeared wary about the cost associated with the project.
“We don’t have to fund it in one year,” Correa told board members last Wednesday. He said the cost can be phased over a five-year period, but the district has to “stake its claim” on the federal dollars.
School board president Jonathan Hodges wondered whether it’s sensible to carry on the massive project as the district looks to bring on a chief technology officer (CTO). “I just don’t want to tie the hand of the CTO,” he said.
“I don’t think we should sit and wait for the IT director,” said Errol Kerr, school board member. He said the district should move forward with the project noting once a chief technology officer has been hired that individual will simply continue the work to equip every classroom with wireless internet access.