Wireless system finally up and running

Students and educational staff across the district are surfing the web, videoconferencing, and sharing information like never before now that the Rainy River District “Connect” project is up and running.
After more than a year-and-a-half of building the wireless system which boosts Internet service to district schools, the equipment was brought online two weeks ago.
“We had one minor hiccup,” Stephen Danielson, computer systems administrator for the Rainy River District School Board, noted Tuesday.
One school had equipment fail but it was replaced under service warranties.
“Now everything is running smoothly,” Danielson said.
The new system, which involves a partnership between the Rainy River District School Board, Northwest Catholic District School Board, and Northwest ConX, boosts Internet speed for students, allows for videoconferencing across the district, and access to board databases for all schools in the network.
“It’s like the difference between driving 150,000 miles and 10 million miles. The difference between being able to reach the moon or explore the solar system,” Danielson explained.
The system was supposed to be completed by December, but the equipment needed to build towers and transmitters to send information to schools was discontinued, forcing both the public school board and Northwest ConX to research new equipment that would meet their needs.
The price tag on the wireless system was $440,000, but Danielson said it would have cost millions for the school board to put up towers and purchase the hardware had they not partnered with Northwest ConX.
“Our part [of the backbone system] cost $60,000 and yet we have access to millions of dollars worth of equipment,” he noted.
Danielson added costs of running the new system are equivalent—or even cheaper—than paying for the old one.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Warren Hoshizaki, education director with the local public school board, said yesterday. “Now we can start looking at opportunities to build programs around videoconferencing.”
The school board already is using the videoconferencing with schools in Atikokan and Rainy River made possible by the system. Hoshizaki said videoconferencing saves staff up to four hours of travelling time to meetings, allowing teachers and principals from throughout the district to be involved in all aspects of planning.
“It shrinks the size of the district a little bit,” he remarked.
The system also allows local administration to videoconference with Toronto, saving the school board thousands of dollars in travel costs as well as days worth of staff time.
“When a single unit costs $7,000 it doesn’t take long to recoup those costs,” Danielson said.
Except for perhaps Toronto and Vancouver, Danielson said this network is perhaps the most advanced in the country.
“Three other boards are looking at similar projects based on what we have done here,” Hoshizaki added.
Now that the system is up and running, the board is looking at making additional partnerships with the Seven Generations Education Institute here to give district First Nations youngsters access.
“For now, we’re just breathing a sigh of relief that it is done and works great,” Danielson said.