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The cost of not investing in rural high speed Internet: Why one school upgraded to fiber

Jim Beasley’s mission to upgrade Llano Independent School District’s network began when he first started working there in 2005. His biggest barrier to getting rural high speed internet? Finding a provider that would build to a place that is, “too far from Austin, too far from Dallas, and too far from San Antonio,” he explained.

Our team sat down with him and his leadership to hear why they decided to invest in fiber.

Why upgrade, why now?

Online testing: Every year, Jim had to ask the elementary school students to stop using online math tutorials during statewide high school and middle school mandated testing periods. If he didn’t, the district didn’t have enough bandwidth to administer the tests — making the upgrade a necessity, not a choice.

Distance education: Assistant Superintendent James Payne described how funding cuts and their rural location makes it difficult to hire and retain teachers. The school district must leverage distance education — which requires a strong broadband connection.

Funding: Lastly, Texas passed a $25 million state matching fund in 2017. The school district couldn’t cover the cost of non-recurring construction to build fiber to their most rural school with just E-rate. With the extra 20% in state and federal funding, they were covered.

What are the costs of not upgrading?

Jim knew that Llano paid a high price for the existing Internet, but once he visited Compare & Connect K-12, he had the data to prove it. Llano paid four times more than nearby districts for a less reliable connection.

Jim went on to explain that the lack of affordable broadband moved beyond the school walls — it also hindered the community. He saw this first-hand when his son couldn’t stream his online college courses. He also tried to help a local engineering firm find a provider that could supply bandwidth to support all employees online at the same time. In the end, both Jim’s son and the engineering firm moved their talent to Austin where the Internet is fast, cheap, and plentiful.

These experiences made him realize that the money, time, and resources needed to invest in this rural high speed Internet project were worth it for the school and community.

With data and a big-picture outlook, it didn’t take long for the district’s leadership to come around. “If you wait, it’s only going to cost you more,” Assistant Superintendent Payne explained. “Online testing is coming, and you don’t want the headaches. You also run the risk of your students not completing the exams and falling behind.”

How did Llano ultimately upgrade?

Jim worked with his E-rate consultant at VST Services to release a Form 470 and RFP for lit fiber. A local provider came forward and proposed a solution to connect the last school to fiber and increase the district’s overall bandwidth by ten times. Their Internet bill decreased (slightly), and the combination of E-rate and state matching funds covered 100% of the construction costs.

The best part? Jim can work with his provider to scale Llano ISD’s bandwidth as they need it. That way, network issues can’t hinder projects like these:

  • A middle school technology expo that showcased an interactive rhino and corresponding documentary, created and produced by students in their makerspace.
  • Earth science classes that used augmented reality to topographically map and measure the flow of lava.
  • A telepresence robot that allowed a senior to participate in classes in real-time so that she could graduate on time, despite an extended absence.

Supporting rural high speed Internet projects requires schools to invest money, time, and resources, but our team is here to help. Check out our tips and tools to find other ways to secure funding for your school.