Leasing Private Fiber – What Process Do You Follow? (Updated)

Fiber is generally regarded as the fastest, most reliable, and most adaptable vehicle for satisfying schools’ huge appetite for more bandwidth, but only about 40 percent of U.S. districts are believed to have direct fiber connections to an Internet service provider, based on the most recently available data from the National Center for Education Statistics. . .Many districts have also struggled to establish internal fiber connections among all of their schools. Source: Districts get creative to build faster internet connections, EdWeek

Could this be the solution for districts that have to rely on wide area network providers that constantly have aging equipment fail, interfering with school district business and student learning? It seems every time I turn around, the wide area network provider for a local area school district has had a piece of equipment fail. Everyone howls, looking for the Technology Department to fix equipment they don’t even own, control, or know what to do with. And, each time, the WAN provider drags their feet to resolve the issue.

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What to do about this problem? Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend a few minutes chatting with my colleague, Virgil Kirk. We had been inspired byRussell Neal (VST Consulting), who had spent some time telling us about the possibilities. In fact, he drenched us in gasoline then lit a torch! Yes, quite exciting!

Dark fiber is a privately operated, secure and dedicated way for organizations to have access to high bandwidth, while controlling their own network. Dark fiber puts you in control of your own network, allowing you to control costs by gaining the benefits of network ownership without having to construct the physical network yourself.

There are definitely benefits to private fiber, especially leased fiber. You setup a contract with a vendor, and they get to deal with all the headaches and problems. They are the ones that have to worry about “right of ways” (great podcast), and the District enjoys unlimited bandwidth on its fiber network. This really sounds like the solution to a lot of problems districts deal with when it comes to providing access to faster networks and internet at lower cost…check out this info below:

This chart of five different school districts across the U.S shows some of the savings schools have experienced with municipal networks. The orange is the original provider’s exorbitant price for each <cite title="Megabits per second – a measure of speed. 8 Mbps means that 8 million bits are transferred each second. Using an 8 Mbps connection, it would take 1 second to transfer an 1 MB (Megabyte) file – a photo, for instance. Don't get lost in the details – when it comes to Mbps, more is faster. 1 Kbps (Kilobits)<1 MbpsMbps per month. The blue is the price from the municipal network. The savings are stunning.

school-mbps-cost-comparison.png

As I reflected on all the great info Russell had shared with us, I asked Virgil to clarify what he thought the process was for laying private fiber. I hoped that listening to him respond to my question below would help review what I’d heard from Russell.

What do you see as the process of laying your own private fiber network?

Here is his response…as you read it, ask yourself, what’s missing? What would I add to this?

  1. Do an RFP with kind of bandwidth outlined in it. You’ll want to define how many strands and locatio ns you’ll want. Dark fiber, he pointed out, is fiber you’re not using. Dark fiber can be leased to others, such as small businesses. Based on the size of your fiber, you can lease out a certain amount of bandwidth.
  2. Define builds that will be part of the loops, and which are jump-overs.
  3. Idenify the type of network–loop or star topology. Vendor would provide a design based on how much redundancy is needed.

Obviously, we needed to do a little bit more planning and reflecting. One of the points to consider, Russell Neal had told us, was that leasing fiber for 10 years or so was better than laying your own fiber, especially if you worked through a third party. Hmm….

After that, he rattled off a list of fiber leasing vendors including Conterra (the only one I remember off the top of my head but there were others):

Conterra offers complete, turnkey, managed wide area network, Internet access and hosted VoIP services that include; the network design, all permitting/licensing services, deployment of all required infrastructure, on-going operations and maintenance support. 

Conterra is a Priority One E-Rate Eligible Telecommunications Provider (ETP) as defined by the Federal Communications Commission and the Schools and Libraries Division of USAC and is qualified as a Priority One Provider of telecom services for participating schools’ E-Rate funding.  Our California subsidiary is eligible under the California Teleconnect Fund. Source: http://www.conterra.com/solutions/school-high-speed-wans/

Some places–like Arkansas–have seen reports that make recommendations about leasing fiber to schools:

“This existing state resource should be extended to school district hubs … using leased private provider, fiber-optic lines,” it states. “This preserves provider revenue streams and minimizes the need for each of the state‘s 258 school districts to lease, purchase or maintain redundant filtering and firewall equipment and maximizes access to rich educational curriculum and content.” 

The report recommends centralized management of statewide network support services, including network construction. Buying services in bulk instead of through individual school districts would reduce costs and increase scalability, allowing districts to have higher speeds during peak periods such as statewide testing, the report states. Local districts would be responsible for networks connecting their own buildings. Read more

One neat point is that eRate now pays for 80% of leased fiber costs. That’s pretty awesome!

And one of the biggest challenges facing schools and libraries today is the “fiber gap” — by the FCC’s own estimates, at least 35 percent of schools and 85 percent of libraries lack access to fiber infrastructure today. That’s why we’re excited the Commission adopted changes recommended by OTI and many of our allies to make it easier for schools and libraries to use E-rate support to invest in fiber. 

The new order also goes a step further to allow schools and libraries to construct their own networks (or portions of their own networks) if it is the most cost effective solution. This rule is designed to help schools and libraries that receive few or no bids in response to their Form 470 submissions by giving them the option to direct E-rate dollars toward direct investment when it makes financial sense to do so. 

Source: EdCentral’s FCC’s New E-rate Order Brings More Money, Better Rules to Support Fiber Investment

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TCEA shared the following information earlier this year:

  • New E-rate rules allow districts to do things they haven’t been able to do before. Three main points to remember are:
    • The new rules allow school districts to lease dark fiber and receive discounts on the fiber as well as the electronics to light the dark fiber beginning in 2015-2016.
    • Beginning in 2015-2016, in some situations, districts will be allowed to self-provision (own) the fiber if it is the most cost effective solution.
    • Up until now, the E-rate program would only provide discounts on construction projects that costs $500,000 or less. For four years, they are suspending that cap. This is an opportunity to utilize E-rate funds for those districts whose construction costs for fiber installation exceed that amount.
  • The E-rate program will provide up to an extra 10% discount on special construction costs for fiber installation if the state of Texas matches up to 10% of the total cost of the construction. 

What process do you follow for leased fiber lines? Now that E-rate supports it, are you thinking about doing this?


Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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