OARnet helps K-12 school districts meet rising technology needs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Feb 8, 2024) — 

Hundreds of K–12 school districts across Ohio are benefitting from a boost in bandwidth after OARnet and its partners upgraded their connectivity from 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) to 100 Gbps this year, with up to 200 Gbps capability available for future expansion.

The project, supported by a U.S. Department of Education Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund grant to the Management Council, updated the infrastructure for six large urban school districts and 17 Information Technology Centers (ITCs) that serve Ohio districts.

“Since we were first able to bring Ohio’s K–12 constituents as partners onto the OARnet backbone in 2004, we have launched many infrastructure enhancement projects together with the Management Council and Ohio Department of Education and Workforce, thereby ensuring affordable and reliable broadband to meet the ever-changing technology requirements of the future learning environment,” said Denis Walsh, chief relationship officer of OARnet, a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Ohio Technology Consortium. “The ESSER funded project is a win-win for all OARnet members and partners.”

The Management Council provides network and digital resources to the state’s K–12 community. The organization coordinates and supports the Ohio Education Computer Network (OECN), composed of Ohio’s ITCs, which provides internet service and technology programs to school districts, career centers and community schools.

“Speaking both as a former school district superintendent and as the CEO of the Management Council of OECN, it is unassailable that high-capacity bandwidth providing access and support to robust internet-based educational resources is a fundamental component to 21st century learning, teaching, working and leading,” said Geoffrey Andrews, chief executive officer of the Management Council. “This project that expands the OECN connectivity to 100 Gbps or 200 Gbps is a critical element in making and keeping Ohioans competitive.”

“This initiative ensures Ohio school districts have the necessary bandwidth to access critical technology tools for today’s educational environment,” said Stephen D. Dackin, director of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce. “By adding capacity for bandwidth expansion in the upcoming years, the project also anticipates and accommodates the continued growth of and reliance on technology solutions in our schools and allows for Ohio’s education community to respond to rising needs and strategically plan for the future.”

META Solutions is one of the OECN ITCs that worked closely with OARnet to upgrade its 200-plus school districts to 100 Gbps. This large ITC serves districts in Columbus, Dayton, Athens, Marion and Piketon and can attest to the need for better bandwidth. Since 2020, bandwidth needs have grown by 76 percent as districts have adopted more online technologies for the modern learning environment, said Jim Sotlar, CEO of META Solutions.

Without its connection to OARnet’s state network backbone, supporting such an increase would have been costly for META Solutions’ member school districts, Sotlar said. The ITC also benefits from OARnet services such as its distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) mitigation for network security as well as its aggregate pricing on VMware, which provides cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology.

“It’s a great partnership between the ITCs and OARnet,” Sotlar said. “It’s all about taking care of our school districts and providing them with services they need to operate efficiently and effectively every day.”

Todd Yohey, executive director of the SouthWest Ohio Computer Association (SWOCA), an ITC that serves seven counties, said that the upgrade offers SWOCA’s school districts additional choices for internet services and instruction delivery programs. As students and staff use multiple electronic devices throughout the day, bandwidth demand is high. The 100 Gbps upgrade allows SWOCA systems to operate at full-speed and efficiency, Yohey said.

“As Ohio completes a transformative middle-mile internet upgrade, the benefits for students, teachers and school districts are nothing short of revolutionary,” Yohey said. “This initiative promises to bridge the digital divide, ushering in a new era of educational opportunities. With enhanced connectivity, students gain access to a world of knowledge, teachers can deliver cutting-edge lessons, and school districts can build a resilient foundation for the future.”

The Stark/Portage Area Computer Consortium (SPARCC), an ITC that serves school districts in Stark, Portage and Carroll counties in northeast Ohio, also benefits from OARnet’s recent upgrade.

“The completion of Ohio's middle-mile upgrade is a landmark achievement, guaranteeing efficient and dependable connectivity for school districts across the state,” said Tyler Smith, director of operations for SPARCC. “These upgrades empower ITCs to meet the ever-growing bandwidth demands of individual districts and buildings. This means students can now fully immerse themselves in life-changing technological learning opportunities, setting the stage for a brighter educational tomorrow.”


Additional Client Testimonials


“As the need for reliable, adequate and secure connectivity continues to grow, OARnet and its ongoing improvements and expansions have allowed us to better support our districts and their needs for educational, student and staff support. Their robust network has enabled us to offer secure and reliable connectivity to our members allowing us to stay cost effective as well as maintain connectivity and reliability. While we experienced some issues with fiber providers during the upgrade, these were quickly corrected with the assistance and knowledge of OARnet staff. They were also able to make suggestions to further improve our network failover time, thus greatly improving uptime in the event of last-mile fiber issues. With this upgrade and these improvements in place, it has allowed us to avoid bottlenecks, offer our districts greater capacity, and ward off concerns regarding throughput capabilities and reliability.”

Adam Truex, executive director, Ohio Mid-Eastern Regional Education Service Agency (OME-RESA)

“The OARnet team did a great job in implementing our 100G connection. … The impact on our districts is significant.  MVECA was nearing our bandwidth cap prior to the upgrade. Had the upgrade not occurred, expensive leased fiber options would have been considered. Fast and dependable access to the state network is absolutely critical for schools and governments in our region. Thanks to the upgrade to 100G we have an affordable and dependable bandwidth option that offers room for growth over time.”

Thor Sage, executive director, Miami Valley Educational Computer Association (MVECA)

Since 1987, OARnet has delivered technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's(link sends e-mail) Ohio Technology Consortium(link sends e-mail) (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center(link sends e-mail) (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network(link sends e-mail) (OhioLINK).