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SAISD plan underway for future-ready high-speed fiber network

News Release

[Media: Technology expert Evangelina Mendoza, manager of Technology Acquisitions and Project Management at SAISD, will be available for interviews today. Please contact me if you would like to schedule an interview.]

SAISD plan underway for future-ready high-speed fiber network

Jan. 31, 2019 — As a result of a nearly $7 million grant from the Federal Communications Committee (FCC), San Antonio ISD is moving forward to build its own District Wide Area Network (WAN) to provide lightning-fast network and internet speeds to all SAISD campuses and administrative offices.

“As we prepare our schools to be future-ready, we look at the possible devices and tools that could be used in our learning environment, and everything connects to the internet,” said Evangelina Mendoza, manager of Technology Acquisitions and Project Management at SAISD.

“With Bond 2016 we even see smart lighting and HVAC systems that connect to the network. It’s all taking up bandwidth so as we put more and more things online and on the network, we need more bandwidth. In order to keep up with that need, this dark fiber network puts us in a good place for the next 10, 15, 20 years.”

In addition to the FCC funding, the District was approved for state matching funds for the special construction portion of the project. This means that 95 percent of the construction cost will be paid by E-rate and the state of Texas will pick up the remaining 5 percent.

The term ‘dark fiber’ originated when telecommunication companies buried more fiber lines than there was a market for at installation because the construction required is costly. The excess fiber would lay unused, and then would be leased to individuals or companies who wanted to establish connections among their locations.

In SAISD’s case, the dark fiber network is the foundation of a new fiber network, which the District will be first to use. It is a custom fiber network with unlimited capacity and is called dark fiber because the majority of the cable being placed will not be used at the inception of the process – it is simply not needed for the amount of data currently being carried on the network.

“It is what we call scalable,” said Etienne Tousignant, E-rate technical project manager at SAISD. “For instance, in the next 10 years, if we see a sudden increase in the population of our students or an increase in the number of facilities or more likely, the tools we’re using require a much higher bandwidth, we now have the ability with this network to increase our needs.”

Nearly 80 miles of fiber will connect every single SAISD campus to the District’s WAN.

“Not only is the system private,” said Etienne. “But the dark fiber network gives us greater control of our technology environment with the ability to make changes and resolve outages much faster to provide superior services.”

The dark fiber network will work in conjunction with the wireless infrastructure on individual campuses as the District continues to update systems and technologies over the next three years.

“Dark fiber is a big piece to the puzzle,” said Tousignant. “Putting devices like iPads and computers in the hands of students is one piece. The second piece is the concealed network infrastructure on campuses. And then you have the network connectivity of dark fiber. All of these pieces work together to provide a connected campus on the SAISD WAN.”

The FCC's E-rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. According to the FCC website, with funding from the Universal Service Fund, E-rate provides discounts for telecommunications, internet access and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. The ongoing spread of innovative digital learning technologies and the need to improve students’ and teachers’ digital set skills have led to a steady rise in demand for bandwidth across schools nationwide.

“We are expecting that this acquisition will provide some tremendous instructional and business opportunities and benefits,” said Tousignant. “To put this into perspective, imagine that the district’s network traffic is now traveling down a two-lane highway. With this implementation, we will now have a 100-lane highway to support our instructional and business needs at a greatly reduced cost.”

Installation of the network is on schedule to begin this fall, and the build-out should take 12-18 months with the new network ready for service in the summer of 2020. Surveying is taking place now.