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Floyd schools seeks answer for bandwidth problems

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Floyd County Board Of Education

With the internet connection across the Floyd County school system being put under daily stress — from Chromebooks to cameras to students’ cellphones — officials are looking to work with a local company to nearly double its bandwidth and secure greater support to keep technology up and running.

“We’re maxing out our bandwidth daily,” Craig Ellison, the executive director of technology and media services, told Floyd County Board of Education members earlier this week.

By using the services of Parker FiberNet — for a monthly cost of $5,350, which also includes other services — the school system could add as much as 2 GBps — gigabytes per second, the measurement of the speed at which data is transferred — to the 1.9 GBps of bandwidth it currently has.

The current bandwidth is put under daily stress in supporting as many as 14,000 devices, Ellison said. Currently the school system’s internet is connected at the central office, at 600 Riverside Parkway, and is dispersed to each school — servers are also connected here.

Adding to internet connection problems, Ellison said, is the increase in the number of devices utilizing it. On top of the more than 12,000 Chromebooks in schools, new security cameras at Pepperell High, which send live footage back to the central office, compete for bandwidth, and the school system intends to install cameras at each school in the future. Also, further competition for bandwidth comes from digital signage, software and online assessments, as well as students connecting their phones to the school system’s internet.

Superintendent Jeff Wilson said at the central office there are times when you can’t get on the internet due to a delay in devices waiting for available space.

With Parker FiberNet, the school system would use their bandwidth for the thousands of Chromebooks, while keeping its own in place to handle the less data consuming devices. The data center at the central office would be moved over to the company’s power grid.

Also, there would be a new battery backup and phone backup, supported by a generator, which the school system doesn’t have. So if the power is out at the central office then technology services across the school system would not be impacted, Ellison said.

Wilson said the school system would have to pay all of the monthly fee for a year, but then would have 80 percent of the cost covered by E-rate discounts from the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Administrative Co., a not-for-profit corporation.

Board members were also briefed in the technology update from Ellison on options for replacing 10,453 Chromebooks.

Ellison explained that the life cycle of a Chromebook is determined between Google and manufacturers. A five-year date is set for when a device will stop receiving updates from Google, referred to as an Auto Update Expiration — this does not necessarily mean the device will stop working.

To replace the Chromebooks which will reach their AUE by June 2021 within the next four years, the school system would pay $2.65 million. However, for a six-year replacement schedule for these same devices, the budget hit would be $2.2 million.

By taking the second, and cheaper, option, Ellison said replacements would lag behind and the school system will be “rolling the dice” when it comes to the Georgia Milestones assessments. Devices which are more than three update versions behind the one at the time of the online assessment cannot be used to take the tests.

This would leave the school system hoping there are not three Google software updates in a single year, or risk not having enough eligible Chromebooks for students to take Milestones on, Ellison explained.

For the next five-year cycle, Ellison said the school system plans to ask voters to approve another 1-cent education local option sales tax in 2024, so $2.6 million can be allocated for Chromebooks replacements.