A new high-speed fiber-optic network that will connect schools across Georgia is the first of its kind in the US.
The 3,600-mile network referred to as the Education Exchange is a joint project of the North Georgia Network, Parker FiberNet and ETC Communications. The project will connect more than 330 schools and 250,000 students across the state, offering digital access to textbooks, resources and instructional material through a 10-gigabit connection.
Paul Belk, CEO of North Georgia Network, thought of the idea three years ago in hopes of allowing schools to share their ideas and resources instead of competing with one another. Belk hopes that doing so will affect student attitudes toward the future.
"This network will open up classrooms to the region and to the world in a way we have never seen before," Belk said. "Within our beta exchange sites, schools in Northeast Georgia have improved administrative services, deployed advanced video streaming projects, and performed real time music collaborations with other schools."
Members of the program will decide which resources to share. According to David Parker, President of Parker FiberNet, schools make the most use of the Internet.
"Schools will be able to teleconference, share instructional content, even put their phone systems on the internet," said Jason Smith, VP of Business Development at ETC Communications, which covers schools in the middle of North Georgia. "The speed of this system will allow schools to share information in real time and instantly access stored instructional material, while reducing costs within each school system," he said.
The program is currently in place in 8 schools, who are using one of the three networks. The technology is up and ready to use in all 30 counties.
The network offers Internet access all the time at the highest speed possible by interconnecting the regional networks at the key telecommunications exchange in Atlanta.
"It really gives us access to bandwidth that we couldn't get any other way," said assistant superintendent Pete Seabolt for Lumpkin County High School.
Cirrus Networks, a local IT company, will be handling network setup and maintenance, allowing schools the freedom of using the network without worry of technical difficulties.
The network is a possibility due to the mass amounts of fiber optic cable that has been installed across North Georgia over the past five years, paid for through federal and state investments.
"The strength of our communities, our economy, and workforce all starts in our schools," Belk said, "as a community-owned company, it's our job to give back and use our resources to better the next generation."