Greg Lowe, CEO of Syringa Networks – the company that sued over the contract award for the Idaho Education Network – told lawmakers on the broadband study committee today that the IEN was really two pieces: Internet access and distance learning. And it was designed to optimize the distance learning piece, when the majority of what schools needed was internet access.
“The IEN had small circuits relative to what’s being put into schools today,” he said. “And when it came to internet access, those small circuits, even though they were highly managed, provided a less than optimal user experience.” Schools that used the IEN for videoconferencing had a better user experience, he said, as they had dedicated, high-quality connections.
The reason schools are so happy with their current, post-IEN internet access? “They have so much more bandwidth now that the applications that they are using are running with much higher performance,” he said. “Can the current prices remain? Overall, the answer is yes,” Lowe told lawmakers, as long as the next network is designed to take into account the two different pieces for which it’s used. “The majority of the network is internet. … The reason why it’s substantially less money is because the price of internet itself has dropped dramatically over the last five years.”
Schools actually use excess bandwidth, Lowe said, because peak internet consumption occurs during evening hours for many carriers; that means the school service has marginal cost for the provider. “The key to getting a good price is to access it locally,” he said, so big new infrastructure costs are avoided. “There’s a lot of bandwidth available to schools sitting idle every day in our networks.”
Looking ahead to how the next generation of education broadband service for Idaho schools should be designed, Lowe suggested keeping internet purchasing a school decision. For intra-district networks, he said districts should build or lease their own fiber between schools. And for inter-district networking – like when students take a class offered by a far-off district – the state Department of Education should decide, he said, but only after bell schedules have been aligned and curriculum established, and the need is identified for specific connections. “These circuits are high-priced,” he said. In all three cases, he said the state Department of Administration has the expertise to help vet qualified vendors.
Lowe said, “Part of the original IEN was a field of dreams – build it and they will come, and they didn’t.”