Cassville schools get new fiber optic technology

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Technology director: 'We were at 100 MBps, and now we've gone to 500 MBps'

Having the latest technology is a benefit to any school district to facilitate the process of education, and at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, the Cassville district was the recipient of that in the form of fiber optic internet technology.

The substantial jump in speed, increased bandwidth and efficiency that the new technology offers aims to make the school and work day go much more smoothly for students and staff.

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, said the new internet service, which was installed by goBEC through Barry Electric Cooperative, is lightning fast.

"Ten years ago, we were barely at 10 MBps pipeline," Asbill said. "Three years ago, we got to 100 MBps. Now, as a 500 MBps pipeline, it's amazing how fast technology has changed our needs."

Contractors have been working for months preparing infrastructure to set up residents with fiber optic technology in specific phases, which is reported to be much faster and superior to cable and copper, with less interference and interruptions, but goBEC went above and beyond to outfit the school with the service just in time for the new school year.

"We did get the school up and running, but it took a lot of help," said J.R. Smith, goBEC manager. "We are still getting our software running correctly, and there is still plenty of fiber to test."

"We were their very first customers," said Errick Fuchs, technology director for the district, who assisted with the set up process. "And I really appreciate goBEC because they really worked with us to get us set up. J.R. Smith was a big asset and he really pushed and got everything ready just in time for school to start."

Fuchs explained how the service will change teaching for the better.

"It's a big jump in technology," he said. "And it's going to be a better situation since you're not running down copper. The fiber is more reliable. The increase in bandwidth is going to help us with the number of devices we have so teachers are not waiting to teach something because a page is buffering or there's a lag in access, so it's going to help in the educational process.

"Once we initialized Chromebooks and did the 1:1 initiative, we could already tell we were going to need more bandwidth to keep up with the demand. We were topping out on what we previously had. So with the added devices we now have, this is really going to help us out with our internet speed. We're just getting started with students coming back to school, but just from what I've seen, the difference has been incredible. So far, everything is working well."

In addition to the obvious benefits, the service also has another perk -- even though it is the newest technology, which would usually cost more, it is saving the school money.

"We were at 100 MBps, and now we've gone to 500 MBps, but it's actually going to cost us less through goBEC than when we were with the previous carrier that most schools go with," Fuchs said. "Basically, we get funds through our e-Rate program, and it provides some discounts for these type of things. For instance, last year, we had the wireless infrastructure redone and got that paid for with an 80-percent discount. We [only] had to pay 20 percent. We get that through our free and reduced students."

Fuchs said that for each month the district pays for the service, they get a percentage of the payment reduced thanks to the e-Rate funding.

"We began the process to evaluate service options last winter and spring as part of the e-Rate process," said Asbill. "The actual switch over to Barry Electric occurred in July."

The increase in the number of Google Chromebooks the district has worked to obtain, combined with the latest technology the school now has, makes the educational process a game changer for teachers.

"We were at about 1,000 devices before, and after the 1:1 initiative, we've basically doubled that for third through 12th grades," said Asbill.

Smith said that goBEC will eventually offer other services in addition to the internet, such as video and phone, and Asbill said the district plans to access additional services offered through the fiber system.

"Technology is changing things so rapidly," he said. "Access to information, use of information, ability to collaborate with others and the technology platforms that this can occur is incredible. Providing our teachers and students access to 21st Century learning resources is vital to building students who are college and career ready for a future that is changing each day."

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