Your school’s broadband connection obviously gets you internet access, but how does it get you that access? Here are the aspects of your service you should be looking at.
What’s a ‘good’ broadband speed for your school? If your school’s MIS, curriculum materials, data backups and media resources are all largely based around cloud storage, then a high speed internet connection will be crucially important.
The standards users expect in this area are rising constantly, but at the time of writing it’s reasonable to expect a minimum speed of 80mbps. The measure ‘mbps’ refers to megabits per second – since a bit is one eighth of a byte, a speed of 1mbps means it would take 8 seconds to download a file that’s 1 megabyte in size.
You also need to check the contention ratio, which concerns how many people will be trying to use your connection at the same time. More simultaneous users equals less bandwidth per person. Ask about the possibility of leasing a dedicated line that’s used by only your school, though even then you’ll want an assurance that your connection speeds won’t be adversely affected by many people in your school connecting at the same time.
As your school’s needs expand over time, you’ll want to ensure that your broadband package can be modified accordingly. Be sure to ask potential providers whether your school will be able access a backup connection in the event that the main one goes down – something that will be especially important if your MIS is cloud-based.
Can the provider offer a ‘no downtime’ guarantee? Boasts of ‘99% uptime’ sound great, until you realise that 1% downtime translates to around 15 minutes in an average school week. Would you like your lessons to be simultaneously without internet access for 15 minutes? Also check what a provider’s ‘fix time’ is likely to be, i.e. how long it will take for them to actually resolve a problem. Their stated ‘response time’ will tell you nothing – you could receive an automated response immediately, but not receive actual assistance for several days.
You can expect virtually all providers to be on the ball when it comes to protecting schools and their users. They should be able to provide you with up-to-date protection against viruses and other forms of malware, without the school needing to do anything.
Needless to say, web filtering should be in place from the start, and should include the facility for schools themselves to tweak the relevant blacklists banning, and whitelists allowing certain sites and keywords as needed.
Your broadband provider should also provide a means of easily monitoring whitelisted websites. Some years ago, a geography website widely used by schools was taken over by an entity that proceeded use the domain for hosting pornography, without changing the URL. At the very least, it should be easy for a school to report anything like that happening and have the situation rapidly dealt with. Check whether the provider may be able to offer any guidance on e-safety to parents and pupils.
Finally, good providers will be able to offer schools ‘bonuses’, such as discounted curriculum software or complementary commercial applications. As always, shop around and ask for more than you think you’ll get!
Terry Freedman is an independent education technology consultant and writer. Follow him on Twitter at @terryfreedman.