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Students in Pinal County Get Equitable Broadband Access with Zayo

Case Study

Find out how the Pinal County school district leverages Zayo networking solutions to create an equitable learning environment at home and in the classroom.

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Situated between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona’s two largest cities, Pinal County has seen steady population growth throughout the years. Still, much of the county is considered rural and network growth hasn’t kept pace with the population increase. In a technology-forward era for schools, this connectivity is imperative.

Prior to working with Zayo, some areas of Pinal County had plenty of fiber, but some schools didn’t have any fiber access at all, creating a need for equitable access across the county. When students were sent home with devices during the pandemic, network shortcomings in rural parts of the county disrupted the learning process for some.

District leaders in Pinal County recognized the need to deliver equitable learning opportunities to students and tapped into various funding channels to upgrade the district’s network. Today, the county’s future-ready network powers digital learning environments and creates new opportunities for the entire community.

“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,” says Jill Broussard, Pinal County School Superintendent.

Aside from network shortcomings, Pinal County faced another issue becoming more frequent and disruptive in school districts across the country – cybersecurity attacks. These attacks put increased pressure on district IT teams already stretched thin. Always seeking to improve, Pinal County’s leaders now focus on proactively safeguarding their students and staff from cyberthreats.

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.

Jill Broussard, Pinal County School Superintendent

The Solution

A Comprehensive Network Solution Designed to Help Students Succeed

Federal E-rate and matched state funding gave Pinal County the purchasing power it needed to upgrade its network. Pinal County chose Zayo to bring equitable connectivity to students and schools in the county, fortify the network, and bring reliable, affordable voice solutions to select districts.

Creating an A+ Network for School Districts and Beyond

To connect the county, Zayo first deployed more than 320 miles of fiber in the area, delivering a continuous fiber network to all K-12 entities in the county. This build wasn’t easy – engineers had to traverse through geologically difficult terrain like mountain ranges at times – but it was vital to enabling the next generation of connectivity in the region.

“Zayo fiber has been a critical pathway to connection in the county,” shares Peter Lin, Associate Superintendent of Technology at Pinal County Schools.

Furthermore, Pinal County’s private dedicated infrastructure provided the foundation for connectivity for community anchor institutions and at-home Internet. 100G Dedicated Internet Access connectivity back to 100G WAN core network enables access to public cloud environments for K-12 and college locations. Pinal County Education Service Agency (ESA) being the single subscriber on this network reduces bandwidth bottlenecks, enabling the same level of connectivity in rural and metro areas.

On top of an extensive long-haul fiber network and WAN offering, Zayo built middle-mile fiber connections from town to town and school to school helping connect previously unconnected areas of the county affordably. This provided the foundation for services from Zayo and other ISPs, enhancing the overall infrastructure in Pinal County.

Future Growth Supported by Better Connectivity

In a rural county like Pinal, wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) are critical to at-home connectivity. As a partner to all major carriers and WISPs, Zayo identified towers in need of optimization with the new fiber. Zayo optimized tower locations for WISPs to boost performance for everyone in the county, especially those previously without adequate broadband connectivity.

The value of the county’s new fiber extends beyond schools and anchor institutions. As the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas continue to expand into Pinal County, the county has become increasingly attractive to real estate developers, high-tech firms, and data centers – all organizations in need of high-capacity Internet connectivity – something that Zayo fiber now provides. Lin speculates about the value of Zayo connectivity, “The next generation will take us to a level we can’t yet imagine. We have a lot of infrastructure now that other counties don’t have.”

Fortifying the Network Against Cyberattacks

Cybersecurity is another priority for Pinal County’s technology team. When one of their school districts experienced a DDoS attack, Pinal County’s previous upstream service provider couldn’t handle it. They wanted Pinal County to cough up an additional $80,000 a month to protect against these attacks – a cost the county couldn’t spare.

Luckily, Zayo’s network solution included upstream DDoS protection, saving the county’s school districts a hefty monthly expense plus the cost of a downed network in the instance of a DDoS attack. This protection has enabled Pinal County to mitigate DDoS threats early in the process.

In addition, thanks to a cybersecurity grant from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, Pinal County employs additional cybersecurity solutions. Solutions like multi-factor authentication, device management, endpoint security, and security training ensure students’ data is fully secure and the learning process isn’t interrupted by a breach.

Zayo fiber has been a critical pathway to connection in the county.

Peter Lin, Associate Superintendent of Technology at Pinal County School


Fast, Flexible Unified Communications

Finally, Zayo provides hosted voice services to two districts in the county, enabling the districts to save money while enjoying access to a robust cloud PBX feature set, 24/7 live customer support, and enterprise-level service quality and reliability. The districts can now tap into this solution thanks to increased bandwidth from Zayo. Previously, the aging infrastructure meant that VoIP had to be done with less performant MPLS links. Their previous provider was quoting ten times the cost for the service that Zayo now offers.

The Zayo Difference

“The difference between the network now and before is night and day,” Lin tells us, “The network is more stable and staff, students, and parents have taken notice.” Before, Pinal County’s rural districts were working with dated infrastructure and students lacked the capacity to use their digital learning tools and applications. As a result, these rural school districts depended on traditional school materials like textbooks. Now, teachers have more flexibility in creating their own curriculum using resources on the Internet and don’t have to spend their budgets on hard-copy textbooks. “With broadband access, we can revolutionize access to education, develop economic empowerment, and generate the delivery of critical human needs,” shares Lin.


Why Pinal County Schools Chose Zayo

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Equitable broadband access

Students in rural areas can access the Internet and take advantage of online resources at home and in the classroom

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Supporting future growth

Capacity on Zayo’s long-haul network throughout the county is attractive to high-tech firms and others eyeing the region for innovation in years to come

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Affordable, enhanced cybersecurity

Upstream DDoS protection is included in Dedicated Internet Access

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Carrier partnerships

Zayo works with all of the major carriers and is the preferred partner to more than 850 additional carrier customers

Optimize Digital Learning with Zayo

K-12 school districts need to meet the needs of all students, no matter where they are, no matter how they learn. Zayo can help with transformative technologies that are supported by world-class customer service.