More bandwidth sought for schools

By Sabrina Kraft
The challenges of bandwidth and Internet access for local schools was discussed by trustees with the Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division at their Thursday meeting.
Brian Belinsky, manager of information systems for Cornerstone, provided information on the bandwidth capabilities for different schools.
Through Community Net (or CNet), schools are provided different levels of bandwidth across the division. The majority of schools have 10Mbps of connectivity.
In the Weyburn area, only one school has 100Mbps connectivity, which is the Weyburn Junior High School. The Weyburn Comprehensive School has 200Mbps connectivity, due to the fact that the facility will be shared with the Southeast College.
“The biggest challenge is getting more connectivity,” said Belinsky. One of the issues is there are different responses to responsibility from CNet, the Ministry of Education and SaskTel (who is a provider of CNet in the province).
Belinsky said that there is a lot of demand from across the province for increased bandwidth augmentations for schools.
He provided an example where Cornerstone had provided the Ministry of Education with requests for three schools to be upgraded from 10 MB to 100 MB. Two of these three schools had the upgrades completed. However, Assiniboia Park Elementary School was initially approved for an upgrade, but then it’s ticket got closed and now the upgrade is no longer in the system.
One of the challenges pointed out by Belinsky is that there is not a typical vendor relationship that exists with SaskTel. “There was no tendering of the provider service, so the relationship is not like one a residential home might have,” explained Belinsky.
He also addressed concerns regarding “the sad state of service level agreements with SaskTel.”
Around the Cornerstone board table, there were concerns raised by trustees who have heard about other school divisions who form more defined partnerships with SaskTel, or opt out out of CNet and tender out a different network.
“It is a sad state when schools divisions who want bandwidth are being hamstringed by a government-owned Crown,” said Janet Foord, Estevan trustee.
For school divisions that opt out of CNet, Belinsky noted that it is easier for school divisions within Regina or Saskatoon, where they have access to providers like Rogers, Shaw or other services.
“The decisions are nice and simple for those school divisions, but not so much for our school division since we have so much rural schools.”
There were also reports of school divisions who were able to purchase their own Wifi capabilities, which helps lead to more opportunities for those schools to offer services to their communities.
One thing that Janet Foord noted was that the provincial auditor should really challenge the current partnership between the Ministry of Education, CNet and SaskTel.
Another concern voiced by board members was to what might happen to their internet services if anything were to happen to SaskTel. “If they go down, we do down,” said Foord.
Greg Jacobs, the external communications manager for SaskTel, noted that under the current agreement, they take direction from the Ministry of Education. “Schools have to make a request to the ministry to increase their speed. If the ministry sees it as necessary, than we get direction to apply the upgrade to the school.”
According to the Ministry of Education, they are working with SaskTel and school divisions to increase the bandwidth in a number of schools around the province, including those in rural areas.
“The Government of Saskatchewan believes that a robust technology infrastructure is required to support 21st century learning and effective administration and we understand that bandwidth demands from the education system are increasing,” said the Ministry of Education.
The CNet program is a contract between SaskTel and the Ministry to provide a network to the education sector. CNet is a dedicated wide area network that connects all subscribers to each other.
“Its architecture reflects equal upload and download speeds necessary for conducting business within a school division. It allows for secure connections protecting the privacy of the data,” said the Ministry.
The bandwidth options available to schools are 10Mbps or 100Mbps. Bandwidth is allocated based on the number of students and the grades taught at the school. The ministry works with school divisions to determine school requirements.
The Southeast Cornerstone School Division has identified schools that require upgrades to bandwidth. The ministry and SaskTel continue to work with the division to provide additional bandwidth as required and available. 

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