REGIONAL - Area school districts will see massive increases in internet speeds and reliability this summer.

Through a partnership between SDN Communications and the Southwest West Central (SWWC) Service Cooperative, a fiber-based internet service will come to more than 30 school districts in southwest Minnesota, including every public school district in Nobles, Murray, Rock, Cottonwood and Pipestone counties.

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The new Wide Area Network, which will offer gigabit upload and download speeds and above, will be up and running by July 1.

About 12 years ago, SWWC installed a fixed microwave wireless internet to its school district members. The service was a huge upgrade at the time, but has become somewhat dated as the demand for bandwidth has increased, said Josh Sumption, SWWC director of technology.

“This new fiber-based network will be another huge upgrade of about tenfold for most of the schools involved,” Sumption said. “We’re extremely excited to make this transition and start moving ahead.”

The new network will be faster and more reliable, as it is less succeptible to the elements, said Amy Ernst, District 518 technology director. 

"This will triple the amount of bandwidth available for educational purposes in the school in the first year alone," Ernst said. "Currently, the district makes certain decisions on how we do business based on the available bandwidth, knowing we often are at maximum capacity with the current wireless access to the internet. The move to fiber will open up educational and administrative opportunities that were previously not available on the slower network."

District 518 uses a separate network to connect its school district buildings, so the SWWC network connects at a single point. For Pipestone Area Schools and Jackson County Central, the new network will interconnect multiple schools within the school district to allow for more reliable and efficient communications.

SDN is utilizing several coops, along with its own fiber huts, to create a fiber network that runs from Sioux Falls to the Twin Cities. For example, Ruthton-based Woodstock Communications’ fiber line connects rural Pipestone and Murray counties to Slayton.

A Minnesota fiber-based network became doable in the last two years, thanks in large part to the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband program, Sumption said.

Sumption said the new network will be easier to maintain and easier to upgrade. Another benefit is the cost. Despite getting higher speeds, SWWC will pay roughly $300,000 less annually than it does currently.

About 70 percent of the network cost is paid for by the federal E-Rate program. Of the remaining money, the state pays about 40 percent. School districts generally pay 15-20 percent of their share out of pocket, Sumption said.