Okaloosa County School District Admin Complex in Fort Walton Beach

Okaloosa County to expand fiber optic network to the school district

On Tuesday morning, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners agreed to expand the county’s fiber optic network to include the Okaloosa School District.

As of today, the Okaloosa County School District uses 2 primary telecom providers to connect school locations via fiber. This has a yearly cost of over $220,000, and does not include the Okaloosa Youth Academy.

With that, various schools connect at various speeds due in large part to availability and affordability. The maximum speed currently available is 2 Gbps and the School Board desires to increase this initially to 10 Gbps.

The County Fiber Optic Network provides service to:

  • The Board of County Commissioners
  • Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office
  • Okaloosa Tax Collector
  • Okaloosa Property Appraiser
  • Clerk of Court
  • Supervisor of Elections

It also provides service to various cities, colleges, military, and state agencies.

Expanding the county fiber optic network to the school district will allow the network to grow more into rural areas and open up future opportunities for the connection of other facilities and additional projects, according to the county.

“Local governments traditionally relied solely on incumbent telecom providers for network access between multiple sites geographically distributed within their jurisdiction,” said Dan Sambenedetto, Okaloosa County IT Director. “This model is currently employed by our Okaloosa County School District.”

County IT has estimated it will cost approximately $1.5 million (not to exceed and including the Okaloosa Youth Academy) to construct and expand their existing fiber network to 39 schools.

“This agreement and project will allow the school system to effectively deploy a model similar to the County’s and would be win-win for both parties, by allowing substantially better internet service and cost reductions for the School Board and the expansion of the fiber network and some operating revenue for the operation and maintenance of the system for the County,” continued Sambenedetto.

With reimbursed Cares Act funding, the County would fund the initial $1.5 million fiber option capital buildout and charge the school board $75,000 yearly for operations and maintenance.

For the School District, Superintendent Marcus Chambers says that this will create a cost savings overtime and will give the OCSD more control over bandwidth to other schools.

“This is a big deal for our school district,” said Chambers on Tuesday morning. “This will help our IT Department, especially with bandwidth and that is a big deal for us in terms of what happens with testing, with students and with resources. This is a direct win for students when it comes to the resources that they’re able to have as we continue to educate them.”

Additionally, this proposed buildout will also enable the county to expand the network into previously unreached locations to connect more county sites such as SCADA, traffic, public safety, public access, parks, and provide more opportunities for dark fiber revenue.

The agreement also provides for the future expansion to other school sites in Baker and Laurel Hill, if fiber is expanded to those areas.

“Up in the north end of the county, we’ve got some areas where internet access is just wholly inadequate,” said Commissioner Nathan Boyles. “And let’s be honest, it’s not critical to survival, but it’s critical to success at this point to have that access. I’m excited about how this partnership will potentially be able to leverage for that next phase as we move forward.”

Up next, this item will go before the Okaloosa School Board at an upcoming meeting to be voted on.

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