Case Study: Bloomfield SD's Migration to Broadband and VoIP

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As the IT director for Bloomfield School District in New Mexico, I faced a major challenge with our infrastructure when it came time to upgrade our network and voice systems to meet our educational and technological objectives. The district, with 10 administrative and school sites, is located in a rural area of northwestern portion of the state, which limited the alternatives available to us. Its network was based on T1 connections, and the bandwidth would not support the education initiatives of the district. It was also very expensive, costing us about $5,900 each month.

On top of that, another large budget item was $60,000 we paid for annual maintenance on the PBX. Unfortunately we could not rely on Priority 2 E-Rate funding for the maintenance because our E-Rate discount is 77 percent. Funding cutoff for Priority 2 services has varied from 69 percent to 84 percent over the last five years. Bloomfield did not have the budget to upgrade the network, pay for voice T1s, and pay $60,000 in annual maintenance fees.

As it turns out, there was a single solution to both of these issues. Partnering with broadband provider Trillion Partners, Bloomfield was able to deploy a WAN with 10 to 100 times the bandwidth of our previous system and migrate our legacy PBX system to a voice over IP (VoIP) service--all for less than what we had previously been paying.

The Costs
For our district's educational objectives, the obvious option--adding additional T1 lines at 1.5 Mbps--would not have met our bandwidth needs and would have added unreasonably to costs. I met with Trillion, who demonstrated to how we could best implement a broadband WAN that would provide 10 to 100 times the bandwidth of the old network and save money. And we'd be able to eliminate our old T1 lines and the cost of maintenance for our PBX-based voice system by implementing a VoIP service as part of the deployment. (And, as an added bonus, we'd eliminate the onsite maintenance requirements of that PBX.)

With VoIP, we were able to eliminate most of the expensive T1s. And, because Trillion's service is Priority 1, we essentially turned the $60,000 that we were paying out of pocket for PBX maintenance into $261,000 worth of Priority 1 E-Rate services. (As a 77 percent E-Rate district, we pay 23 percent out-of-pocket. Hence $60,000/0.23 = $261,000.) The savings from eliminating T1s and the buying power of Priority 1 services helped us fund both our new broadband WAN and our new VoIP services for less than we were paying before.

Improved Network and Telecommunications
This new high-speed broadband WAN has helped us revolutionize communications within our district, providing over 10 to 100 times the bandwidth of our old T1 network. This year we are deploying 15 new teaching and administrative applications across our district to enhance learning and increase productivity.

The VoIP telephony service is enabling our teachers to stay more connected with parents, collaborate better with each other and feel safer knowing they can get help if they need it. Our new service provider delivers our WAN, Internet and VoIP telephony services--giving us one point of accountability.

At first, I was reluctant to install a new telephony system. Our previous installation had been very painful, taking many months to deploy. We had constant problems with our vendor and with the carrier supplying T1 connectivity to our schools. Another pain point with our legacy PBX solution was end user administration that required my team to travel onsite. When Trillion mentioned VoIP, I was also concerned about the overall impact it would have on my team. We had experience with PBX-based telephony, but none of us had experience with VoIP. I'd heard that VoIP could be complex to manage.

But after much discussion and reference checks we decided to implement the broadband WAN and VoIP telephony solution throughout the Bloomfield district, and my concerns turned out to be unfounded. The deployment across 10 sites involving more than 400 handsets took three days.

As for the impact, users really appreciated the new phones, and the new system was quickly adopted. Teachers liked the ability to stay in touch with parents from the privacy of their classroom. Teachers also said they felt more comfortable knowing they could communicate with the outside world during a lockdown. The system has also been used for safety measures. Recently, one of our teachers received obscene and threatening voice messages while at work. We used call records to trace the caller to a local motel where authorities were able to arrest the perpetrator. We wouldn't have been able to do that with our legacy system.

Our IT department has also benefited from the migration to the new network and VoIP. Instead of adding more work to my staff, our VoIP service has actually decreased our workload while helping us provide better service to our administrators and teachers. With Trillion's solution in place I've essentially added highly skilled network and VoIP engineers to my staff that work 24 hours a day. They monitor and manage the system around the clock. Unlike my previous vendor, my new VoIP service does not require me to go onsite to make end user changes. I can make end user changes, at any of our 10 sites, while sitting at my desk.

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About the author: Sondra Adams is the director of technology for Bloomfield School District, New Mexico. She can be reached at sadams@bsin.k12.nm.us.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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