In 1998, the average U.S. public school had one internet-accessible computer for every 12 students. Fast-forward twenty years! Now, the number of devices using Wi-Fi in a Jeffco school exceeds the number of students in the building. Many of our schools have infrastructure older than most students’ parents. School funding in Colorado has been on the decline since 1982. Exponential demand, old infrastructure, limited resources -- how can Jeffco Public Schools provide fast, reliable connectivity now and in the future?
This is a question the Jeffco Public Schools Information Technology department (Jeffco IT) began asking themselves years ago. One solution was obvious: purchase internet services from commercial vendors. Obvious, but expensive. As many families know—the more bandwidth you need or want, the more costly the service.
"Jeffco IT is committed to finding ways to link all schools into fiber networks and securing partnerships whenever possible to provide top-notch connectivity in a fiscally responsible manner"
Though our schools meet national educational technology benchmarks, we are behind the FCC recommendations on connectivity. Students, staff, and guest users may find school internet service slow compared to private industry or home networks. Benchmarks aside, Jeffco IT aspires school internet connectivity to be faster and more reliable; that means building a redundant system and increasing bandwidth. Jeffco IT needed an innovative solution to increase capacity without stealing resources from other school programs. The solution? Build our own fiber network utilizing mutually beneficial partnerships.
Five years ago, after designing a plan, Jeffco IT began building its own fiber network called JeffcoNet. They also began building relationships with other public entities to seek potential partners for fiber networks. Jeffco IT realized other public service entities would face the same challenge of securing adequate internet access with limited funding. Municipalities, higher education, and public safety organizations were looking for solutions, too.
The first partnership, with the School of Mines and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was a big success. The partnership enabled Jeffco IT to establish JeffcoNet between key facilities, ensuring a redundant system at the base of Jeffco Public Schools IT operations. The result? Five times the capacity.
Jeffco IT also joined a consortium of Front Range public entities called GigaPop and continued to find projects that offered opportunities to team up with others on installing fiber. Partnerships to date save the district $150,000 a year, have increased capacity by ten times, and offered the opportunity to increase the resilience and redundancy of the system. Five years ago, Jeffco Public Schools were 100 percent dependent on commercial internet services; that dependency has now dropped to 85 percent.
“I know technology infrastructure is not the first thing people think of when we talk about public schools,” explained LeRoy Ruterbories, with Jeffco IT Infrastructure Services. “But it really supports our educational goals. Agility and adaptability is one of the Jeffco Generations skills, and that is exactly what we are working on.”
Next on the list is northwest Arvada. The City of Arvada has been very supportive of public partnerships and passed a “shadow conduit” city policy. This means Jeffco IT will be able to piggyback on all infrastructure conduit to efficiently use public dollars.
What is the ultimate goal? Jeffco IT is committed to finding ways to link all schools into fiber networks and securing partnerships whenever possible to provide top-notch connectivity in a fiscally responsible manner. The dream is for Jeffco Public Schools to be off of commercial service entirely, and Jeffco IT is well on the way to making that tech dream a hardwired reality.