librarySchools throughout a large part of northwestern Minnesota will be getting 10 gigabit broadband as the result of a cooperative effort between a school district consortium and a consortium of 18 small local telecom service providers.

The initiative builds on a 13-year relationship between the telco consortium, known as Northwest Minnesota Special Access (NMSA), and NWLINKS, the school district consortium, explained Brian Crommett, sales and service manager for 702 Communications, in an interview. 702 Communications is one of the 18 telco NMSA members and is the one charged with centralized support for NWLINKS, which current connects more than 120 schools.

10-Gigabit Broadband for Schools
Back in 2002, NWLINKS decided that it wanted to interconnect schools in participating districts, and the small telcos got together to respond to a request for proposal, Crommett explained.

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At that point many of the small telcos already were interconnected and they realized that “it probably wouldn’t be such a stretch to connect the rest of us to make this network work,” recalled Crommett.

Initially many of the schools were connected to the NMSA network via T-1 or other relatively slow speed lines. But as the years passed, NWLINKS entered into several new agreements with NMSA, gaining bandwidth upgrades each time.

“They wanted higher speeds every time – and better equipment,” said Crommett.

In 2009 NMSA made the decision to bring fiber to all of the NWLINKS schools.

E-Rate funding helped cover schools’ monthly service charges but each telco in the NMSA consortium was responsible for the cost of deploying fiber where needed. At that time some telcos already had made fiber deployments and even offered fiber-to-the-home, while others had not.

Some other small telcos in various parts of the country have found that once they bring fiber to anchor institutions such as schools, it is easier to make a business case for broader FTTH or fiber to the node deployments. Crommett said he couldn’t comment on each NMSA telco’s business plan but added that for any business “having a good anchor tenant helps justify expansion.”

A couple of other points worth noting about the NMSA/ NWLINKS story:

  • Although one of the major national carriers is the incumbent in some NWLINKS communities, that carrier isn’t a NMSA participant. Instead some of the NMSA members built out the fiber to schools in those communities.
  • NWLINKS simplified the process of applying for E-Rate funding for the schools by giving responsibility for filing applications to a regional software service provider known as Region 1.

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