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Taking E-Rate and School Broadband to the Next Level

January 16th, 2019 by

By its most basic measure, the FCC E-Rate program has done a remarkable job of bringing broadband to K-12 schools. 98% of U.S. schools now have high-speed internet access of at least 100 kbps per student, a more than ten-fold increase in just a few years.1

However, the bar is constantly rising. What was once considered adequate high-speed access is now insufficient for digital learning. Schools must get aggressive to meet the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Mbps per student, which will enable digital learning in every classroom. Today, only 28% of school districts currently provide that level of connectivity.

E-Rate eligible high-speed internet in use at schools.

For the remaining 72% of schools on the wrong side of the digital divide, district leaders must optimize their IT solutions to make the most of limited resources. Understanding which E-Rate eligible solution is best for your district is key.

  • Switched Ethernet for a virtual private LAN solution. School districts with more than one location and the need to securely share video, applications and voice data to one or more remote sites may want to rely on a switched Ethernet service. This technology extends communications across multiple district locations with fast and secure connections that range from 1.5Mb to 10 Gbps, offering private connections across a MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) advanced IP network. Switched Ethernet is a Layer 2 technology which enables point-to-multipoint configurations to create a customized LAN solution ideal for providing high-speed connections among multi‑location districts.
  • SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network). SD-WAN is an E-Rate category 1 eligible service, which offers high-performance networking using low-cost IP broadband. SD-WAN acts as an overlay network that decouples network management from physical hardware, and a centralized controller determining the best path for each application to optimize performance.
  • Wavelength services. Larger campuses with expansive student populations may find a better fit with wavelength services, which offer point-to-point fiber connectivity without high upfront costs. Wavelength services typically range from 1 to 100 Gbps to meet specific needs and budgets. The result is high resiliency with a lower cost per Mbps than any other managed transport.

Building a network for today’s learning environment takes much more than simply turning up the dial on bandwidth and selecting among network options.  In order to optimize your investment in data connectivity for your district, other key services– such as security, network management, voice and unified communications are also required.

As an approved E-Rate service provider since the inception of the program, Windstream Enterprise can meet you at the whiteboard to customize a robust, versatile IT solution that best meets your needs, while maximizing every dollar of E-Rate funding and your IT budget.

1 stateofthestates.educationsuperhighway.org/#future

Keeping School Networks Safe from Attack

August 8th, 2018 by

While every network is a potential target for cyber threats, K-12 school districts are especially under attack. We bore witness to one example recently while assisting a large Midwestern school district that utilizes Google Classroom (which requires Internet access for curriculum, instructional resources, homework, and testing). They were hit repeatedly with coordinated DDoS attacks that swamped their Internet service for nearly two days. Internal IT staff knew the attacks were happening, but couldn’t stop them until they engaged the help of Windstream Enterprise’s DDoS Mitigation service. The result?  Immediate detection and mitigation of the attacks and the elimination of downtime and potential losses from simultaneous data theft or ransomware attacks.

Students working on computers at school

This school district was one of the lucky ones who acted swiftly. However, the network of K-12 school districts currently rank as top targets for three types of threats:

  • Data theft. A recent Symantec survey found that schools incur a full ten percent of all information breaches, making them the third most breached sector. Cyber criminals go after school networks for the abundance of sensitive information they contain, from social security numbers to student health records.
  • Ransomware attacks. BitSight Insights reports that 13 percent of educational institutions surveyed experienced ransomware attacks on their networks last year. That’s more than twice the attack rate for the healthcare industry, and eight times the rate for the financial sector.
  • Cyber mischief. School districts increasingly are hit by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which massive traffic overwhelms networks to shut down websites, phone systems, and Internet/application access. DDoS attacks are relatively easy to launch, and more than half of them directed at schools come internally from students.

Despite being top targets, most school districts have weak network defenses. A 2017 survey by the Consortium for School Networking found that just 15 percent of school technology leaders have a cybersecurity plan.

Making network security a priority for schools

A growing number of school districts have hardened their network defenses by adopting a managed network security solution. Managed security solutions typically deliver extensive, real-time protection against intrusion without requiring the school district to retain internal security expertise or divert general IT resources to challenging security matters.

Woman monitoring network security

Why do so many schools remain under-protected? Cost is often cited as the main reason. But as with most severe threats, a focus on preventing data theft, ransomware attacks, and DDoS attacks can prove far more cost-effective and prudent than dealing with them after they arrive.