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Private lines will save money and allow for faster, more reliable internet services

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Workers with Clackamas County's fiber contractor, North Sky Communications, install fiber-optic cables along Beavercreek Road in Oregon City in 2012. The cables are similar to what will be placed throughout the Lake Oswego School District.The Lake Oswego School District has finalized an agreement with Clackamas County to install “dark” fiber-optic lines that could save the LOSD an estimated $181,000-$301,000 a year and provide faster, more reliable internet service.

“This is a long-term investment for the health of the district over the next many, many years,” says Joe Morelock, the LOSD’s assistant superintendent for academics and student services.

The term “dark fiber” refers to fiber-optic infrastructure, including cables, which is privately owned rather than leased or purchased from a supplier such as Comcast. Once connected to internet service, the lines will use lasers to beam information in pulses that “light up” the glass cables. These particular cables are “transport” cables, which link the networks in the LOSD’s buildings and campuses to the outside world.

Under the terms of the agreement signed in July, the county will install new dark fiber-optic transport lines by June 30, 2017. Installation of the lines will cost $922,438 after a 40-percent federal discount.

The Lake Oswego School Board intends to ask the community to support a bond in May that will have “a critical technology component,” and the fiber will support new tech investments, says Sarah Howell, chairwoman of the board.

HOWELL“We are excited that we will have the infrastructure to the buildings to implement technology improvements inside the buildings,” Howell says. “I am grateful that our district staff recommended cost-saving solutions to provide a better service at a less-expensive price over the long term.”

The annual cost to maintain the lines will be $36,720 — or 89 percent less than the $337,968 that Comcast plans to charge the district to use its fiber-optic transport lines for 2016-17. (While negotiating the contract for this year, Comcast tripled the district’s rate from the previous year, which was $116,064.)

Having its own transport lines will not only be easier on the district’s wallet, Morelock says; it will also allow the LOSD to expand instructional possibilities at the 10 operating schools in the district by improving bandwidth (the speed at which internet access is delivered). And the increased reliability will help those schools run more smoothly, he says, because when the internet stops working, other things — including the phone system, or the ability of staff to access student and financial records — can also stop working.

“These dark fiber connections will provide the school district with certainty that they can meet ever-increasing bandwidth needs at an affordable rate,” the agreement with the county says.

Clackamas County not only will handle the installation of the new lines, but will also provide internet services through the Clackamas Education Service District. CESD’s internet services include a firewall, network monitoring and federally required content filtering. CESD is paid by the state for providing internet and other services to its 10 member school districts, including Lake Oswego.

Once the new lines are in, the district will be able to add new electronic equipment that can accommodate more gigabits per second, increasing the speed at which internet content is delivered to schools.

“We will start at 10 gigabits, but the theoretical limit on the fiber is 100 times that or more, depending on the electronics we place on each end of the fiber,” Morelock says. “For now, the plan is to have 10 times what we have now.”

The CESD will not charge extra for the increased bandwidth, according to Jeremy Pietzold, a network engineer for the service district. And the possible growth is vast, he says, even though the lines are spun of fine fiber.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The amount of gigabits that fiber-optic cables can transmit depends on the electronics on either end of the cables.“The fiber is smaller than a strand of hair, so (bandwidth) depends on what type of electronics you put on it,” Pietzold says.

Despite all of the positive technological improvements, there has been one drawback to the district's decision: a more-expensive contract with Comcast for this year.

With a three-year, $116,064-per-year contract coming to an end in the 2015-16 fiscal year and plans for the dark fiber in the works, the district agreed to renew with Comcast to cover the period when the new lines will be installed. The Philadelphia-based telecommunications company told the district that it traditionally doesn't sign one-year contracts, but it agreed to do so for $337,968 — or nearly triple the previous rate.

On the upside, “the Comcast agreement will allow a doubling of the current speed, from 1 gigabit to 2 gigabits at each site,” Morelock says. “That still has not happened, but should be underway at some point.”

The district contacted Comcast about a rate for a one-year contract at the “very end of the funding cycle for school districts,” says Amy Keiter, Comcast’s director of external communications.

“We quickly put together a number of options — including some lower cost alternatives — for the district's consideration,” Keiter says. “We also informed them that — just like many other services — the cost would increase with a shorter contract versus a longer-term contract. The school district informed us that they wanted to move forward with the one-year contract, even with the increase in pricing.”

She says it is “a competitive price within the guidelines of the federal E-rate program.”

Morelock says the company has no competition when it comes to fiber-optic transport lines.

MORELOCK“Right now, Comcast is essentially the only game in town in many communities," Morelock says, "including LO."

The total cost of installation for the dark fiber transport lines is $1.54 million, but the district will be reimbursed for 40 percent of that by the federal government. The funds will come from the Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit managed by the Federal Communications Commission. One of USAC’s four programs is the Schools and Libraries (E-rate) Program, which provides discounts to eligible schools for telecommunications.

“After six years, if costs remain the same and do not increase, or decrease for that matter, the district will save $181,000 per year in connectivity costs with the E-rate discount, or $301,000 per year if E-rate were to disappear,” Morelock says.

As a federal program, E-rate could lose funding at any time, Morelock says, so he calculated the costs both with and without it. The Lake Oswego School Board approved $1.75 million in long-term debt during a June 13 meeting, so it could pay the full amount for the transport-line project and services before the discount is received, and allow for any contingency costs.

Many school districts, cities and libraries in Clackamas County have recently been adding fiber-optic cables, thanks to a $7.8 million federal grant in 2010 to install a 180-mile network throughout the county. One of the main purposes of the grant was to correct a disparity between rural and metro areas when it came to internet bandwidth and connectivity, says Duke Dexter, broadband program coordinator for Clackamas County.

Dexter says there was no obligation for any district or agency to join the network, but people want to travel the internet more quickly, he says, and fiber-optic cables offer a faster link to the information superhighway.

“We built … a freeway," Dexter says, "and now, other people are building on-ramps to be able to get onto that freeway.”

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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