As the cable industry makes inroads into the commercial services market, the schools and education vertical is emerging as not just a philanthropic endeavor, but also as a viable business segment.

Optimum Lightpath, a division of Cablevision Systems, announced recently that it has replaced Verizon Communications as the provider of choice for the Creskill Public School District in New Jersey. In so doing, Optimum Lightpath has connected three campuses and a board of education building to its fiber-optic network.

The district had been using a 3 Mbps ATM-based wide area network (WAN) connection. By going with Optimum Lightpath, it now has 10 Mbps Internet access, 20 Mbps Internet voice and 1000 Mb Metro Ethernet circuits for the WAN. The school plans to use the technology for applications like SMART boards in the classrooms.

"(Educators) are looking for us to partner with them to empower students to experience distance learning," said Julia McGrath, Optimum’s senior vice president, business development and marketing. Optimum also provides services to nearby districts of Paramus, Ridgewood, and Glen Rock.

Cost was a factor for Creskill schools, but so was a personal touch. "The director said (they) were not satisfied with the level of customer service provided by the previous carrier," McGrath said. The RFP was issued November 2008, and Optimum had the fiber lit by the end of February.

"As we continue to build these districts … it will become more cost effective, and the time to get fiber to the building decreases as well," McGrath said.

Evolving process

Working in the schools is not a novel idea for the cable industry. It traditionally was part of many local franchise agreements. And since the late 1980s, the industry has used the Cable in the Classroom initiative to help organize its efforts to bring content, modems, and broadband access to schools.

Cox Communications, a Cable in the Classroom founding member, is on board with giving back to the community for educational purposes. In Omaha, for instance, the Cox Connects Kids (CCK) program has put more than 1,000 new or refurbished computers into the homes of low-income families. Omaha South High School students do the refurbishing, enhancing their coursework and careers along the way. (This program was discussed in The Broadband Express, a publication of the NCTA tied to the BroadbandNation exhibit at this year’s Cable Show.)

However, there is the potential to further these types of relationships. In Lemon Grove, CA, Cox’s business division has provided a virtual private network (VPN), called LemonLink, connecting the schools, local government and residents.

"LemonLink is one of our primary cases that we like to model. It works best when we can tie revenue back to the company, but if it doesn’t, it’s still OK," said Kim Thomas, Cox community relations manager.

Through this initiative, there is a dedicated fiber-optic connection between the network and Cox’s plant, 20 Mbps of managed access to the public Internet, and five ISDN T-1 lines for telephony. The network itself can support up to 100 Mpbs. Centrally housed content and software can be accessed from school or home.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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