The first phase of connecting Howard County public schools to the Inter-County Broadband Network is complete, County Executive Ken Ulman announced Tuesday.
Thirty-three elementary schools, eight other school system buildings and the new Thomas Viaduct Middle School, which opens this month, will be hooked up to the ICBN for the 2014-2015 school year.
The result will be much greater data capacity than before: While schools previously had about 100 megabits per second, they will now be able to transfer even more data. Elementary schools will have one gigabit per second of data capacity, while middle schools will have three gigabits per second and high schools, once they are on the network, will have five gigabits per second.
The second phase of the project, which will connect eight additional elementary schools, 19 middle schools and 12 high schools to the ICBN, is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
The added data capacity will help expand the school system's "bring your own device" policy in high schools, and will allow for more virtual learning opportunities and online testing.
"More capacity means more available tools and services for our students — from high-definition video to remote learning," Ulman said in a statement. "The benefits of broadband have begun, and they'll continue in education, in public safety, in health care and in economic development."
"Broadband capacity is essential to building the best learning environment for the future," Howard Schools Superintendent Renee Foose said in a statement. "It enables students to access timely, relevant information that will expand their knowledge and broaden their perspective."
The ICBN, a broadband project that combined federal, state and local funds to create a network of more than 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable connecting every county in the state, won a five-year contract to provide Internet to the school system after a competitive bidding process. County officials said the ICBN bid was the lowest made, and would save $2.8 million over the course of the contract.
Construction of the network broke ground in 2011 and wrapped up last October.