The Management Council, which provides network and digital resources to the state’s PreK-12 community, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund that will enable the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) to boost the bandwidth of Ohio’s PreK-12 schools.
The project, slated for completion in 2024, will increase internet connectivity between OARnet and 18 Information Technology Center (ITC) sites and seven large urban school districts from 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) to 100 Gbps with up to 200 Gbps capability for further expansion.
“This technology upgrade will support the growing use of online courses and remote learning resources in PreK-12 education, allow school districts to extend wireless internet service into nearby homes, and also expand access to mental health and security services,” said Denis Walsh, chief relationship officer for OARnet.
OARnet began providing connectivity to Ohio’s PreK-12 schools more than 15 years ago, when it received funding through a partnership to extend its statewide fiber-optic backbone to large urban districts as well as the ITCs that provide shared technology services to a majority of Ohio’s school districts. Since that time, the districts have exceeded the capacity of the original 10 Gbps bandwidth, and OARnet has been performing one-time upgrades along the network as needed.
OARnet has provided connectivity for the state's PreK-12 schools since 2012.
With the new federal funding, which is part of the broader Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, OARnet now can provide a system-wide upgrade to the overall PreK-12 service. The project involves an upgrade to the backbone’s existing Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing transport technology, which will support the 100 Gbps connectivity to the schools, said Mark Fullmer, chief technology officer for OARnet.
“OARnet can utilize its existing fiber and technology used on the backbone to increase bandwidth, capacity and services for the vast majority of the PreK-12 schools in Ohio,” Fullmer said. “This also will allow them to grow into the 400 Gbps capacity we are building up in our statewide backbone.”
“The new project will provide greater, more reliable bandwidth for Ohio’s ITCs and large urban districts, which is critical for student success during a time when many students are using remote learning tools, such as online subscriptions, web tools, digital resources and virtual field trips,” said Geoff Andrews, chief executive officer of the Management Council, which coordinates and supports the Ohio Education Computer Network (OECN), composed of Ohio’s 18 ITCs. The upgrade also will better position the districts to take advantage of online resources and future-proof schools to support the new hybrid learning environment.
“As ITCs and large urbans become more capable and comfortable with their abilities to meet future bandwidth demands, they can make informed decisions that incorporate predictable budgeting and costs,” said Scott Gaughan, director of networking for the Management Council. “Another notable benefit is ITCs and large urbans can take on new curriculum and tasks as a result of the new hybrid learning environment and feel confident in their ability to meet their future demands for increased bandwidth.”
OARnet’s client services team is working with the ITCs and large urban districts to document needs and order equipment for the project, which will be completed in phases over the next two years. In addition to the Management Council and OECN, OARnet will work with equipment suppliers PacketLight Networks and Juniper Networks on the project.
“OARnet looks forward to working with our public and private partners to greatly enhance the bandwidth for our PreK-12 schools,” said Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet. “The project will help our districts and students access important online learning resources and ensure that our educational system can capitalize on the latest technology advancements.”
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 Ohio Technology Consortium (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK).