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Content Filtering: A Solution That Works

ASK ANY TECHNOLOGY COORDINATOR about key concerns and you’ll hear: “Bandwidth!” “Safety!” “Budget!” While each of these is a legitimate bad dream by itself, it’s at the intersection of bandwidth, security, and budget where the concerns can become a nightmare. Jim Culbert, information security analyst of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, FL, had an immediate problem: Students in his school district were hitting MySpace.com about 300,000 times per week. Not only was the educational utility of MySpace doubtful, but the traffic was hogging a significant amount of bandwidth that could have been used for more appropriate educational applications.

Fortunately, Culbert had a powerful tool at his disposal that was installed in his district—the integrated Internet filtering and reporting capabilities of 8e6 Technologies. It was from 8e6’s Enterprise Reporter capabilities that he discovered the number of student hits on MySpace initially, and was then able to block access to the site in a way that did not slow down his network. Concern about protecting children from inappropriate content and Web sites also continues to grow as use of the Internet increases in schools. The escalation of this concern culminated in a series of laws enacted by Congress in the late 1990s. Ultimately, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) was the result of a number of attempts to balance freedom of speech and legitimate research by students with concern for their safety. In short, CIPA requires the enforcement of an Internet safety policy that includes the use of a technology protection measure such as filtering. Any school district or library that receives federal funds, including E-rate funding, must comply with CIPA. 8e6 has been used by local districts, intermediate agencies (e.g., regional education service centers), as well as state networks providing Internet services to comply with CIPA. Why? “Because it works,” according to Pam Christman, manager of the Rhode Island Network for Educational Technology (RINET).

RINET is a nonprofit collaborative that serves as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for all public and most of the private schools in Rhode Island. When compliance with CIPA first became a requirement a few years ago, RINET was looking for a scalable solution to content filtering. In a time of tight budgets, its 36 school districts did not have the money to buy a lot of additional hardware and software, so RINET took care of all the content filtering for every district in the state. But it was 8e6 that brought them significant flexibility, allowing each district to set up its own rules and guidelines based upon its own community standards. This enabled each district to run its own reports and monitor where its students and teachers were going on the Web. Different districts could even assign specific permissions at the student and teacher levels. Thus, elementary students would not have access to the same sites that high school students could visit.

For Paul Duggan, operations manager of the Alabama Research and Education Network (AREN), which serves 134 school districts, 80 libraries, six research-level universities, and several state and local government entities, scalability and flexibility were important considerations when selecting a solution to comply with CIPA, but initially he was most concerned with performance of the network and the cost. Fortunately, although AREN is a large, diverse network utilizing nearly 1,000 Mbps of Internet bandwidth from multiple providers and delivery points within the state, 8e6’s “pass-by technology” filtering capability is able to check requested Web sites without slowing down its network performance.

Support is critical to ongoing effective content filtering, security, and network use. The Internet and Web sites are moving targets, and even legitimate—not necessarily educational— sites change IP addresses and subdomains, or otherwise try to evade content filtering. According to Duggan, 8e6 offers “very good support,” because they listen to their users and proactively enhance their products and services based on user feedback. That is why 8e6’s appliances work and will continue to work long into the future.

The authority and leading provider of appliance-based Internet filtering, Internet monitoring and reporting solutions for business, education, government and ISPs worldwide. Visit www.8e6.com/education or call 888.786.7999 for more information.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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