In March, the Janesville School District will break ground on a 26-mile fiber optic cable project to significantly increase internet speeds and help prepare the district for the next 50 years of technology.

District Chief Information Officer Robert Smiley announced Tuesday that the district gained approval for a federal E-Rate project to install high-speed, high-capacity fiber optic cable between all district buildings.

The cost of the project is $2 million. The federal E-rate program covers $1.6 million, Smiley said. The district’s contribution comes to $400,665, plus engineering and project fees. Smiley estimates those fees will come to approximately $225,000.

At the meeting, Smiley described the upgrades as going from a two-lane road to “our own private Interstate.”

The use of technology and the need for internet access is only going to increase, Smiley said.

The E-rate project allows the district to put in 12 lines, the maximum amount allowed. In addition, the new cabling would allow connection speeds 10 times faster than what the district currently has, Smiley said.

The school district currently pays about $70,000 to lease internet lines.

Smiley expects the project will pay for itself in nine years. The new network has a 50-year life expectancy.

E-rate is the common name for the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, said Patrick Gasper, district communications specialist.

The Universal Service Fund, under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission, raises money through a fee charged to companies that provide interstate and/or international telecommunication services to the United States.

The lines will also make it easier for the district to upgrade its phone system.

The current system was designed in the 1980s and installed in the 1990s. A new system would be able to utilize the district’s new fiber optic lines.

The need for such an upgrade was demonstrated last year.

On Jan. 16, 2017, when many other districts closed because of an ice storm, the Janesville School District decided to hold school.

Bus drivers discovered roads were worse than expected that day, and rural bus routes were cancelled.

Parents wondered where the buses were, and schools were inundated with phone calls. The phone system couldn’t keep up.

The district was also unable to reach parents who signed up to receive emergency alerts on their phones.

The school board has not yet approved funding for a new phone system.

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