A project to deliver broadband over fibre to every school in New Brunswick is nearing completion ahead of schedule.

Officially, through a pre-existing agreement between the federal and provinicial governments and telco provider

Aliant, the completion date was the end of 2005. But the project is moving ahead of schedule with the cooperation of Aliant and Group Telecom, and less than 70 schools remain.

All schools in the province have had Internet access since 1996. More recently they have been connected through frame relay technology, which can be classified as broadband, but doesn’t necessarily deliver the transfer speeds one would typically associate with the term.

New Brunswick is a rural province, explains Kevin McCluskey, assist director support services branch, New Brunswick department of education. As such, schools in more remote areas have had to make do with whatever the telco providers make available to them, or whatever the schools could afford to pay for.

“”They’re connected to the Internet, but not necessarily at a very high speed. It would limit the amount of things they could do online at any one time in the school,”” said McCluskey.

“”The frustration is sending kids to a site and have them waiting and waiting and waiting,”” added Brian Bawn, president of New Brunswick Teachers Association. “”Any upgrade that allows that to happen quicker is more beneficial for the kids. It’s a more efficient use of their time.””

By putting all schools on a fibreoptic network, that playing field will effectively be leveled.

The move to fibre-based broadband will also aid the province’s delivery of online courses. There is a need for such courses in New Brunswick, because some of the province’s schools are remote and may lack the teaching staff to cater to every discipline. If only a handful of students in any given school are interested in a course, they can take it online rather than waiting for it to be added to the broader curriculum.

“”We couch online learning as just another delivery method. It’s not necessarily for all students, but it really serves those students that really don’t have any other options,”” said McCluskey.

There are currently 34 courses available to Grade 11 and 12 students, everything from Spanish to technical support. The province plans to offer 60 courses by September 2005.

Such courses were difficult to take online before, said Bawn, due to lack of bandwidth. “”It certainly gives them more capability and quicker access to the Internet, which from a classroom teacher’s perspective is certainly a priority — to be able to get the information to the kids as quickly as possible,”” he said.

New Brunswick citizens will also be able to take advantage of the upgrade through the Community Access Centre program, which allows local residents to use school computers after hours.

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