Grand Canyon School Board approves short-term internet

Grand Canyon Unified School District

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Grand Canyon Unified School District

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon School governing board took steps at its Aug. 15 meeting to bring high-speed internet to the school.

A lack of internet bandwidth at the school has led to several challenges over the years, including bottlenecks with annual state testing and inability to send large documents through email. The school applied last year to be considered for an E-rate grant, in which the federal government provides funding for rural schools and libraries to receive high-speed fiber internet connections. The school’s application has been approved, but there has been no word on how much money would be received or when construction would start. Grand Canyon School Assistant Superintendent Matt Yost said once E-rate funds are awarded, construction on the fiber project would not begin for at least two years.

In the interim, the school board approved funding to purchase high-speed microwave internet services from Niles Radio Communications (NRC), which maintains its own tower near Hopi Point. The company would provide 50 mbps of bandwidth compared to the 10 mbps the school is currently receiving through CenturyLink. The buildings themselves are connected via fiber, so the source of the problems is the internet connection, according to Grand Canyon School IT Director Derrick Tutt.

“Currently our buildings are connected to each other with fiber, so they’re connecting (to the network) at one gig (one gigabyte), so essentially the bottleneck is our internet connection,” Tutt said. “You see a delay in your testing or when downloading email.”

Tutt said that while 100 Mbps would be great, the school could get by with 30 to 50 Mbps without testing in shifts.

Any internet service provider would need to file an application with Grand Canyon National Park. According to Sharon Ringsven, deputy chief of commercial services for the park, two companies — Niles Radio Communications and ComNet — submitted completed applications to provide service. Ringsven said it would take 120 days for the permitting process to be completed after a vendor is selected. Installation of equipment could begin as early as mid-December.

The board approved a three-year contract with NRC to provide 50 mbps internet service at a cost of about $24,000. NRC is not eligible for reimbursement through E-rate, but Yost said the cost to schools is comparable to those that are E-rate eligible. Yost emphasized that the plan is only a temporary arrangement until the school is able to choose an E-rate provider. Yost said NRC has up to 100 Mbps available if the school needs additional bandwidth in the future.

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