Ottawa school board forges long-term IT partnership

Telecom Ottawa and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) say a partnership between the two organizations will bridge the digital divide between rural and urban schools

while keeping IT costs at bay.

The 10-year agreement calls for Telecom Ottawa to provide the school board with a high-capacity bandwidth connection to 154 facilities serving 78,000 students and 6,600 teachers and administrative staff.

“”Previously, most schools (in the district) had a 1.5 Mbps connection,”” said Dave Dobbin, CEO of Telecom Ottawa, a broadband data utility and Internet services provider. “”Now they’ve got a 1,000-megabit connection and it’s costing (the board) less.””

The cost savings will come from IT administration, he added. In the past, each school had to have a server and its own IT infrastructure to connect back to a board office. “”So you had a lot of computers out there, a lot of maintenance contracts, and a lot of costs,”” said Dobbin.

The universal network enables the board to centralize all IT administration and storage, rather than having “”school board IT guys running all over the city to fix problems,”” said Dobbin.

The network also significantly increases functionality while agreeing with the board’s $1.5-million annual budget for Internet connectivity, said John Hindle, the OCDSB’s manager of business and learning technologies.

“”To try and secure 150 individual access points on a large enterprise network like this is almost impossible,”” he said of the old way of doing things. “”So by having a centralized firewall, Web filter, Internet access, that provides us scale that says our support costs are as minimal to the board as possible.””

The extra bandwidth, in combination with the centralized network, means 75 computers in a rural school can all be online at the same time, said Hindle. In the past, the same school could only have five computers online simultaneously.

Remote schools can also benefit from the two-way videoconferencing that the network’s extra bandwidth permits. In the past, low enrollment in certain classes within rural schools meant the course was cancelled. But online courses, aided by videoconferencing between urban and rural schools, means remote students can still benefit from the same courses that urban students enjoy.

For example, the violin teacher at Ottawa’s Canterbury High School is teaching music students in Nunavut, and Canterbury students are mentoring students from a Nunavut school.

“”Now, you can offer all the curriculum and advantages of a downtown school to those remote kids because they have the network connectivity to do full motion videoconferencing two-way, full sharing of files and education material,”” said Dobbin.

As part of the OCDSB-Ottawa Telecom partnership, the board can upgrade the speed of any connection at any time at no extra cost.

Similar partnerships between school boards and utility-based telecom companies exist in other Ontario jurisdictions, including Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor.

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