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Fiber is Fueling Educational Transformation

By: Nicky Zaayman, Director Strategic Networks Marketing

In an era where digital learning provides richer, more dynamic access to information through online platforms, a future-proof network is key. Here’s how one rural county is leveraging E-Rate funds for a dark fiber backbone to enable 21st-century learning.

As a school teacher turned marketing technology professional 13 years ago, I have seen digital technologies within education evolve significantly since my years in the classroom. Gone are the days of reserving the computer lab for student research. One computer per classroom is a thing of the past. Instead, we’re in the age of education technology, where digital learning provides richer, more dynamic access to information through online platforms such as video lectures, online assessments and information sharing.

It is essential for school districts to keep up with the evolving technology demands that support this incredibly powerful and new facet to learning. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have created standardized objectives to measure and guide student learning through a variety of digital formats and platforms. The Every Student Succeed Act provides funding for iPads, Chromebooks and other electronics for students. This places a huge strain on current connectivity solutions for many districts. Dwindling budgets and increasing regulations also present a challenge. What’s required: A future-proof communication infrastructure to support advanced, dynamic technology.

Approximately $10 billion of government funding is released every year through a regulated program called USAC, which includes the E-Rate program for school districts and libraries. E-Rate helps subsidize the cost of broadband networks in underserved areas that lack high-performance connectivity. The options for the network can now include dark fiber in addition to lit solutions.

Pinal County School Office Education Service Agency (PCSOESA), located in rural Central Arizona is a regional consortium of school districts that will benefit from E-Rate. In some areas of the county, communities have been limited to T1 technology and speeds of 1.5 Mbps. The repercussions are substantial and students, K-12, are negatively impacted. In need of high-capacity broadband infrastructure and district-wide coverage, PCSOESA released a request for a proposal (470) in 2018, opening up the opportunity to connectivity providers.

Zayo responded and was selected as the provider of choice because we are one of the only carriers able to efficiently build out over 200 miles of fiber in rural Arizona. The dark fiber network will support distance learning, advanced educational technology, streaming media, online testing and professional development. Once the network is completed in 18 to 24 months, it will connect 122 schools and libraries, enabling approximately 55,000 students with high-speed internet connectivity for these applications.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide fiber-based infrastructure so all our students can benefit from access to high-performance internet,” Arizona Department of Education Public Information Officer Stefan Swiat said. “It is an incredible opportunity for underserved children from small schools in rural parts of Arizona to have the same technology opportunities that are afforded to other children in the state. Zayo has been a committed, responsive partner, and the project is an excellent example of how a public/private collaboration should work.”

This project opens up opportunities not just for schools and their districts. The fiber backbone will also enable other private and public sector customers, including higher education, federal agencies and hospitals to grow and innovate.

“Broadband access is the great equalizer, leveling the playing field so that every willing and able student, no matter their situation in life, has access to the information and tools necessary to achieve success,” said Jill Broussard, Pinal County School Superintendent.

As a former school teacher, I couldn’t agree more. E-rate brings unlimited opportunity to the students, teachers, administrators and community of Pinal County. Students will be prepared for their future careers through a digital platform. Think virtual, augmented and mixed reality, gamification, smartboards and smart desks in a redesigned classroom—the sky’s the limit! Laying the proper infrastructure with Zayo today will put Pinal County in the position to continue to evolve and scale with tomorrow’s technology advancements.

Contact me today at nicolette.zaayman@zayo.com to find out how your school district can benefit from this program.

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