Schools’ Net speed to increase 8,000 times

The school boards of Ontario’s Peel region have inked a 20-year deal with a pair of fledgling telecom companies that promises to increase by 8,000 times the connection speed of schools to the Internet without increasing IT costs.

The $27 million contract, involving Hydro One Telecom Inc.

and Enersource Telecom Inc., was announced Wednesday, just a day after the official launch of Enersource. Both companies are the products of Ontario’s electricity market deregulation, as parent companies, Enersource Corp. and the now infamous Hydro One Inc., see fibre-optic services as a way to leverage assets like poles and conduits.

The companies will build a fibre-optics infrastructure that will deliver to each of the schools in the Peel District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board a 1 Gbps connection, which works out to about a 1 mbps service for each student. Enersource will connect the Mississauga end of Peel while Hydro One will handle the schools in Brampton. Some schools are expected to be connected by fall with the rest of the Mississisauga and Brampton schools to all be connected by late 2003.

“”Every child in every school will get the same high-speed access or more than what’s available to them in their homes,”” said Enersource Telecom general manager Brad Randall, referring to home DSL connections which boast one-megabit service. “”What (school boards) pay today is what they’ll be paying tomorrow for 8,000 times the capacity.””

Randall said the size and duration of the contract were the reasons the Peel boards were able to affordably get high-speed, high-capacity connections for its more than 200,000 students and teachers.

“”It’s a large deal with a number of sites,”” Randall said, referring to the 304 school board locations in Peel. “”Second of all, we can offer them a very good price because they went for a very long deal.””

Still, $27 million is a significant sum for struggling school boards, but board officials say they couldn’t afford to not sign the contract, given the current state of technology in the school.

“”The truth of the matter is this will actually save the boards money,”” said John Melito, superintendent of special and strategic programs and projects for the Dufferin-Peel board. He said the need for faster connections is growing given the provincial government’s increasing focus on technology in its curriculum.

“”Board’s have to be geared up, kids have to go on the Internet,”” he said. “”The problem we have now is the money we’re spending isn’t meeting our needs.””

Jim Smith, controller of IT services for the Peel District board, said the 128 kbps ISDN service used by most of the region’s students was too slow to be useful and some sort of upgrade was mandatory.

“”It was completely untenable, but DSL isn’t the final answer either,”” he said, adding that the DSL connections currently in use by the board each serve hundreds of computers.

Peel’s commitment to fibre came after seeing successful implementations in a number of Ontario regions, including Hamilton, Toronto and London. But because of newer technology, Peel’s network will be up to 10 times faster than its predecessors.

The fibre infrastructure and high-speed service, which the boards will pay for in monthly installments, will mean initially more Internet use for the boards’ students, but also the opportunity to utilize applications like streaming video and voice over Internet protocol telephony.

“”It’s all those things we’ll be able to do, but more important, is the money we’ll save over time,”” Melito said. “”This thing will more than pay for itself.””

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