County schools get a speed boost

Yavapai County Education Services Agency e-Rate Clients as of February, 2018, a program to help improve broadband capacity at school libraries across the county.

Yavapai County Education Services Agency e-Rate Clients as of February, 2018, a program to help improve broadband capacity at school libraries across the county.

The biggest issue facing Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter when he took office in 2005 was the lack of technology at many school sites in the county, he said.

As a result, he helped create the Education Technology Consortium that has grown to include charter schools, school districts and libraries operating through the Yavapai County Education Services Agency (YCESA).

Carter and Stan Goligoski, YCESA executive director, spoke to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors at its Wednesday, Feb. 7, meeting about a $1.8 million award that delivers high-speed internet services, enabling schools and libraries to receive better services and reduce their budgets.

When Goligoski started looking at internet access for all Yavapai County schools about five years ago, he found that some internet systems were operating slowly.

Congress Elementary School had about 1.5 megabytes available per day for the entire building. By comparison, most home computers run on 100-300 Mbps, Goligoski said.

The Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) estimated 37 percent of Arizona school districts lacked internet capabilities consistent with Federal Communications Commission’s standard of 100 kilobits per second per student.

Ninety percent of funding for the Consortium’s program comes from an FCC initiative to get broadband high speed internet to all states. As a condition of receiving the federal funds, the states had to provide 10 percent matching funds.

In 2017, the ACC approved an increase for a limited duration to its Arizona Universal Service Fund, which customers pay on all telecommunications services, such as telephone, cell phone, and internet providers.

Gologoski said the Consortium felt its strength in numbers would help drive down the price for construction costs. Most schools and libraries have realized a 90 percent drop in their costs related to expanding internet access; countywide cost reductions averaged 85 percent.

Years ago, Chino Valley Unified School District started out with a 4.5 Mbps connection speed, increased that to 100, then to 300 Mbps. The district had the ability to move to a higher speed for the past few years, said Larry Fullmer, the district’s director of information technology. But the cost of that move was prohibitive.

“Chino Valley will be going from 300 Mbps internet service to a 1 Gbps internet service for about the same total cost,” he said. “We will also be able to increase that speed in the future as the need arises.”

The change takes place in May or June.

Not only do schools benefit from increased broadband service, the surrounding community does, too.

Jerome Mayor Frank Vander Horst, who is also the YCESA e-Rate manager, said the Jerome Library applied for increased service, from which the entire town will benefit.

Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Chair Rowle Simmons said the improved access to internet service also helps the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office with deputies’ body-camera recordings in outlying areas.

“This is a huge public safety issue we can solve,” Goligoski said, adding that the improved internet access could also create possibilities for services like telemedicine to reach smaller communities.

“Even Paulden, Crown King and Hillside are getting it, but maybe not Perkinsville, where there’s not much infrastructure anyway,” he said.

The Education Technology Consortium in Yavapai County is the largest in Arizona. Five other counties are replicating what Yavapai has done, Vander Horst said.

“This is done through the schools for the schools, but at the end of the day, it brings the internet to communities that never had it before. This is huge,” Randy Garrison, board vice chair, said.

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