Architecture and Costs of Connecting Schools to the NII

Article excerpt

Universal connection to the National Information Infrastructure (NII), it is presumed, will facilitate educational reform within schools and communities. Several developments suggest this:

* The federal government is committed to having every classroom in the U.S.A. connected to the NII by the year 2000;

* A number of telephone and cable companies have announced plans to connect schools in their service areas at low or no cost;

* Modern, high-speed networks have been installed at a number of progressive, pioneering K-12 schools;

* The Internet, a global network of networks that connects to an abundance of educational resources, is experiencing phenomenal growth.

However, to date, there is relatively little known about the costs for connecting schools to the information infrastructure. Even though exact costs are unknown, they are expected to be significant. To reduce these costs, a variety of approaches are being tried.

Some states have implemented the cost-saving strategy of purchasing telecommunications equipment and services for all schools in the state. For example, North Carolina has saved its schools 20% - 50% on certain items. Some states have passed legislation permitting the state Public Utility Commission to set preferential or fixed intra-state rates for educational institutions.

Our research suggests that a number of programs would have a significant impact on the total costs of connecting to the NII. For instance, if all schools coordinate purchasing at the state level, cost savings will exceed $2 billion. Colleges and universities often have the resources to provide technical support to K-12 schools. If a nationwide program were instituted, potential savings would be $800 - $1,800 million.

If schools were given free Internet connectivity, the total annual costs for school Internet connections would be reduced from $150 - $630 million. But costs for telecommunications lines and services represent only 11% of the total costs, and hence reductions will have a limited impact.

Finally, as the costs of networking schools is better understood, a new question arises: How will these costs be financed? Many states have programs to fund networking in schools. The federal government has a role, although it must become more flexible and coordinated. However, as Vice President Gore continues to state, the NII will be built by the private sector. A number of states have initiated cooperative ventures between businesses and schools. An expansion of these programs may be the key for successfully connecting K-12 schools to the NII.

But connection alone is not enough: we report below on our finding that support and training together comprise 46% of the total costs of networking schools.

* Scope of K-12 Networking

The model of school networks presented follows the Internet-networking model, by which schools have digital, data connections that transmit and receive bits of information. The models do not include analog video point-to-point networks or voice networks and voice-mail systems. Audio and video functions are possible in digital format over the Internet, but many schools will still use separate video and voice networks. Costs for these systems are important, but are not covered in this article.

It should also be noted that although voice and video networks have been separated out from this report, schools should not consider these three types of networks to be wholly distinct. Some schools have integrated their voice and video networks with their data network. Sharing resources between the multiple networks can be effective in providing significant cost savings. At a basic level, it must be understood that as a school installs a LAN and puts computer data connections in every classroom, there are little added costs to also concurrently install other types of connections, including telephone lines.

* Technology Standard for Connecting to the NII

As described in Information Infrastructure Task Force (1994), the NII "promises every . …