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Schools get latest fiber lines

For three local school districts, slow Internet connections and crashed systems are becoming inconveniences of the past.

Hunter Communications has upgraded Medford, Central Point and Phoenix-Talent districts over the past several months from T1 lines to high-speed dark fiber technology.

Richard Ryan, chief executive officer of Hunter Communications and Core Digital Services in Medford, said all three districts were officially up to speed this month, including 21 Medford sites, five in the Central Point district and six within the Phoenix-Talent district.

All sites are also linked to the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which will now allow schools to participate in state-mandated online testing without their systems crashing.

Richard Whitley, technology coordinator for Central Point schools, said the upgrade not only would allow more schools to participate in online testing than before, but would also reduce the district's number of phone lines from 120 to about 35 and allow off-site data backups rather than outdated tape transfers.

It's a good deal for the taxpayers and for the schools, said Whitley. We'll be communicating at gigabytes instead of megabytes and for less money.

All but three of the 18 Medford district schools ' Griffin Creek, Jacksonville and Ruch elementary schools ' have been online for 60 days as part of the district's 20-year contract with Hunter. In Central Point, Hanby and Sams Valley have yet to be connected because they, too, are in outlying areas.

Jeffrey Bales, manager of information services for Medford, said the ability to participate in online testing without crashing the system was a major plus for the district.

Before, when we tried to implement state-mandated testing for all the schools at the same time, it basically collapsed. Online testing is very graphic-intensive. Now we have the ability to move forward on that without any problems.

Ryan said the major advantage of dark fiber over T1 lines, which were being provided to the districts by various phone companies, is the fiber's self-healing nature.

If the fiber is cut at any point, the signal just goes back the way it came from and makes the connection a different way.

One of my main reasons in doing this was to put something back into the community that doesn't affect our profitability but offers a huge advantage to the community and the schools, he added. This gives our kids a level playing field with any other school district in the U.S.

Buffy Pollock is a free-lance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.