Think your neighbors were gaga over Google Fiber?
Talk to school administrators — make thatcash-strapped
In Kansas City, Kan., school officials are working on how best to take advantage of Google Fiber’s free service to some schools.
One thought: Advanced placement classes at every high school. Right now, money restricts the elite program to two of the district’s five high schools. But with free ultra high-speed service, Wyandotte High students could watch and listen to high-quality video from a Harmon High or Sumner Academy AP teacher.
Superintendent Cynthia Lane also envisions crystal-clear live interaction with college professors fed directly into classrooms. Students could earn college credit, associate degrees and more during the school day. The district has already struck up a conversation with McPherson College.
Internet speeds would be so fast, district officials think, that schools once restricted to crosstown field trips could connect with people and places all over the world.
Those are just a few of the ideas being floated after Google Fiber’s update Thursday on the company’s plan for Internet speeds of one gigabit-per-second. That would be about 100 times faster than typical broadband.
The system will be closely watched in Kansas City, Kan., given that the district has already put laptops in the hands of its high school students through a lending program.
The new service would “connect our kids to the world. Take them to places they wouldn’t otherwise be able to go,” said David A. Smith, district chief of staff.
Google Fiber promised from the start that some schools would receive free service. The original announcement in March 2011 was made at Wyandotte High School. The neighborhood surrounding the school is so poor that some flatly dismissed the effort, saying it would bring almost no jobs and unaffordable service.
Lane said she was relieved to hear that the basic service was within financial reach for low-income families. Google said it would offer conventional broadband for free if customers pay a $300 connection fee.
Other plans are $120 a month for Internet and TV service or $70 for just Internet.
With Google Fiber, every school could have one gigabit. The entire district shares a gigabit now.
The district said that for all its preparation, there are untold areas to explore with the service.
“The easiest — the low-hanging fruit — is video,” said Joe Fives, the district’s technology and information services director.
Video eats up the most bandwidth, so teachers and schools are significantly limited with how much they can use at once.
The district already uses video for some things. It streams live video for town halls and staff meetings, but that’s been problematic.
“I have to stand perfectly still when in front of the camera. If I move at all, it freezes,” Lane said. “When you’re on the other side of something that’s freezing and buffering, you give up.”
Google Fiber is expected to change that.
Fives said the district could face equipment obstacles, though nothing is insurmountable.
Some of those upgrades were necessary regardless of Google Fiber, Fives said, and probably will be covered in part by federal grants designed to help the country’s poorest school districts bridge the digital divide. In other cases, the district will have to decide whether it wants to update every school with high-performance filters and firewalls.
“There’s really not a downside, no matter what,” Fives said. “There are advantages that we will enjoy regardless of what we do even if we do nothing different. We’re still going to be able to take advantage of more bandwidth than we ever had before.”
The district remains mum on a timeline for hookup in part because of non-disclosure agreements it signed with Google. However, officials said the timing should become evident soon. .
In the meantime, the district will enlist ideas from staff and students. Fives expects that students could have some of the most creative ideas about how to adapt to the changes.
“There are so many possibilities,” he said. “Sometimes what (adults) envision may be limited by our experiences and what we know, whereas (students) might not be encumbered by that past.”