Thursday April 24, 2014

District aims for Starbucks quality wifi at schools

'Most of us really feel that’s the way that we need to go'

A group of Kamloops-Thompson School District techies has come up with a cheap and innovative way to upgrade every school’s wireless Internet capabilities.

School districts all over North America have connection issues, with some schools in Kamloops-Thompson relying on dial-up to get online. Supt. Terry Sullivan said this creates issues in the classroom, as many teachers use the Internet to enhance learning.

“Most of us really feel that’s the way that we need to go,” he said.

Sullivan said anyone should be able to go into any school, boot up a laptop, punch in a password and log onto the Internet. This isn’t the case.

“But you can go into Starbucks and flip up your laptop and immediately connect to wifi,” said Sullivan. “This is where our schools should be.”

And not just schools, but any facility in any school district, he said. But, there is a significant cost and wait time for each project.

John Cuzzola, the district’s director of information technology, said it can take six months for a service provider to upgrade a site. Then there’s a cost of $1,300 per month for the service at each location.

To upgrade 26 schools to the minimum standard of bandwith, which is the case in Kamloops-Thompson, would be costly, said Cuzzola. So his department decided to improvise.

Staff mounted satellite dishes on schools with a high Internet bandwith and schools with a low Internet connection, said Cuzzolo. These dishes were aimed at each other through line of site to create a wireless connection and boost the signal at schools with low bandwith.

Each site costs $115 to set up. He said this is a one-time hardware fee. Eleven schools have been rigged so far. The rest will be completed in the spring.

Sullivan praised his IT department for coming up with an innovative and cost-effective solution.

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