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11 South Bend Schools to get on Metronet

By Kim Kilbride South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Eleven South Bend Community School Corp. buildings soon will be newly connected to the St. Joe Valley Metronet, giving students and staff members access to 10 times more bandwidth for Web-based activities.

On Monday, the school board approved a grant — by a 6-1 vote — that will cover the cost of extending Metronet’s fiber optic network to Riley and Washington high schools, Jefferson, Dickinson and Navarre intermediate centers and Lincoln, Madison, Wilson and Perley primary centers, in addition to Bendix Adult Education Center. Adams High School already has a fiber optic Metronet connection for which service will be restored.

The “fiber-to-schools” grants program also will cover three years of Metronet Zing connectivity to each school, along with the district’s administration building, which already is on the Metronet.

Board member Bill Sniadecki cast the lone vote against the move, calling it “political” because of Metronet’s affiliation with the city of South Bend.

And, he said, he doesn’t think Metronet Zing can compete, price-wise, with other providers after the three-year trial period expires.

Metronet began as a public-private economic development tool to make the region more competitive by increasing broadband availability. Today, it has both a for-profit arm that contracts with for-profit companies and another nonprofit that partners with schools and other governmental organizations.

Schurz Communications, the Tribune’s parent company, is a charter investor. And, Schurz’s vice president of information technology is on Metronet’s board of directors.

Patrick Stalvey, South Bend schools’ information technology director, said the district will seek bids for Internet service providers when the three-year trial with Metronet Zing expires.

As a comparison, AT&T, the corporation’s current provider, would charge some $72,000 annually for the same speed service to the 12 buildings that Metronet Zing will provide free for the next three years. That compares with the some $25,000 annually South Bend schools currently pay AT&T for 10 times slower service to those buildings.

Thanks to Erate, a federal program that provides discounts to schools and libraries for telecommunications and Internet access, the district saves 90 percent on AT&T’s costs, in both cases. And, Stalvey said, Metronet Zing is also an Erate-approved provider now.

Stalvey told the board earlier this week the increased bandwidth offered by Metronet will be a boon to the schools, all chosen because they’re located near a current Metronet access point, in a variety of ways.

For example, Adams students will be able to access virtual science simulations. Riley students will be able to record and live stream school basketball games and other student activities. At the Adult Education Center, students will be able to avoid difficulties and delays they now encounter when taking online assessments.

As for Metronet, a news release says the organization believes South Bend schools is a good fit for its grants program because the district is currently overhauling its technology resources, in part with a Tech Refresh program whereby equipment is leased vs. purchased, and replaced frequently.

The grants program has funding available to connect more schools, it says, and new money will be added each year.

Fiber was extended to Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp.’s administrative center on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka late last year via Metronet and a private foundation.

“The network is continually growing,” Metronet Chief Executive Officer Mary Jan Hedman said in the release. “As it grows, more school buildings will be within reach.”