WiscNet connects people. We create opportunities for our community to grow collaborations and share strategies. We work together to articulate needs and then we build connections, advance strategies and create services that solve the real-world problems of our members. A well designed “people network” lets the entire WiscNet community make simple and intuitive use of our most valuable resource: each other.
The WiscNet staff, together with our Board of Directors, have been working to shape the next five years of what we’ll make out of WiscNet. As we were shuffling files, I came across this brief summary of the history of WiscNet spanning the last 25 years.
Early WiscNet – 1990 – 1997
As an association of public and private higher education institutions, WiscNet receives three successive National Science Foundation grants over four years that use the State of Wisconsin’s Consolidated Data Network (precursor to BadgerNet) to create the first Internet protocol network in Wisconsin, dedicated to research and postsecondary education. In 1995, the WiscNet Board approves membership requests received from the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Administration (on behalf of all state agencies) as well as the first school district, regional library system, regional Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), city and county government and multi-government network consortium.
Middle WiscNet – 1998 – 2005
Relying on the State of Wisconsin’s new BadgerNet data-network contract (provided in part by Access Wisconsin), WiscNet staff assist more than 300 public and private K12 schools, CESAs, regional library systems and postsecondary member institutions to install and use Internet access (many for the first time), subsidized by the State of Wisconsin’s TEACH Wisconsin initiative and Federal E-rate discounts. In 1998, responding to requests from member institutions in the Chippewa Valley, WiscNet provides technical and governance guidance to Wisconsin’s first “Community Area Network.” WiscNet also tailors and initiates Internet service in response to numerous regional consortia of K-20 institutions across Wisconsin, assembled to implement the BadgerNet contract’s educational video service offerings.
Late WiscNet – 2006 – 2010
Relying on the State of Wisconsin’s new BadgerNet Converged Network contract, WiscNet staff assist more than 400 WiscNet member institutions to convert, upgrade and grow their uses for Internet access service. In 2007, leveraging TEACH Wisconsin’s increases in subsidized BCN data-networking, and supplemented by WiscNet members’ investments in an advanced multi-state optical fiber backbone network for research and education, WiscNet offers to all its members two years of unlimited Internet access service for a fixed annual cost set by their 2006 usage. In 2009, UW-Extension invites WiscNet to participate in the successful “Building Community Capacity through Broadband (BCCB)” proposals to the US Department of Commerce to fund the installation over three years of sustainable “demonstration” community area networks in four Wisconsin regions, based on the ten-year-old Chippewa Valley Internetworking Consortium (CINC) Community Area Network model.
Relying on the continuing availability of TEACH Wisconsin-subsidized BCN data-networking, competitive offerings from other private providers and growth in Community Area Network participation by its members, the WiscNet Board approves a “network participation fee model” for all WiscNet member institutions that offers unlimited Internet access at a fee set by an member’s institutional size (e.g., headcount), not measured usage. The WiscNet Board also approves a new strategic plan that asks member institutions and staff to (1) Grow community area networks, (2) Advance the WiscNet backbone network, (3) Enlarge regional, national and international connectivity, (4) Partner effectively with Internet2 to make the federally-funded U.S. Unified Community Anchor Network a success in Wisconsin, and (5) Work with its members to fulfill the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Legislation and subsequent political pressures force the University of Wisconsin to withdraw from WiscNet and build a separate, parallel networking infrastructure.
WiscNet’s Future 2014 -
“One of the strengths of WiscNet has been our willingness to regularly reinvent ourselves to deal with changes in our landscape in terms of membership, technology, organizational structure, and resource demands. It seems like WiscNet is continually at the crossroads of major changes associated with the extremely fast-paced and dynamic environment that is national data networking. By paying constant attention to this environment and staying light on our feet, WiscNet will continue to evolve to remain a viable and critical service provider to our members.” – John Beck, Member of the WiscNet Board of Directors, 1990 – 2007
Like many of you, WiscNet network engineers take advantage of the summer months to plan upgrades across the network. While a nice thick coat of dust usually means things are running well, we need to get inside the network to minimize possible service outages throughout the rest of the year.
Our network engineers have spent significant time this past summer upgrading code on the networking gear across the backbone. Much like Vegas, luck runs in streaks. The past few weeks have been particularly frustrating. There are the typical weather issues that come with summer in Wisconsin. A few software upgrades – typically “non service impacting” – have been running afoul. Hardware additions and replacements, in both our network and others, are introducing new complexities. To top things off, communications inevitably get bungled, making everything a bit more frustrating.
Over the next few months our network engineers plan to be a bit more proactive – and a bit more conservative – in planning, forecasting, and communicating upgrades and outages. “Non service impacting” software upgrades may be communicated as “potentially service impacting” out of caution. We are also improving the tools and processes we use to communicate outages to our members.
Some folks enjoy the “outage notification firehose” whle others could care less. If you are interested in getting outage notification messages, email email@example.com and let them know you want notifications. Likewise, if you want off outage notification train, let them know and we’ll take you off the list. In the next weeks we’ll provide more information about our new and improved outage notification processes.
The FCC recently adopted an E-rate Modernization Order designed to start the process of bringing a comprehensive and modern E-rate program more closely aligned to the current needs of schools and libraries. This is the first such major overhaul of the program since its inception in 1996.
Here’s the TL:DR. Schools and libraries have been hungry for the FCC to acknowledge, and address, the state of Internet connectivity for schools and libraries. “We see you are hungry. Here is water and an assortment of beverages to help quench your thirst.” Focusing on Wi-Fi is a half step forward in addressing a much larger, much trickier problem for schools and libraries.
- Directing at least $1 billion in support for Wi-Fi for Funding Years 2015 and 2016 in Category 2 using a reserve fund the SLD/USAC has accumulated over the past several years (http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-boost-investment-broadband-schools-libraries-2b)
- Funding Category 2 without reducing the amount available to Category 1 funding.
- Increasing support targeted for Wi-Fi in rural school districts and all public libraries
- Beginning a multi-year transition of all program funding to broadband by phasing down support for non-broadband services. (Voice services will be phased out over several years but it is likely that email and webhosting will be eliminated in 2015. VoIP is still under review.)
- Using the SETDA benchmarks (http://www.setda.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Broadband_Trifold.pdf) to set clear broadband goals to measure overall program success, while maintaining local flexibility to determine the needs of individual schools and libraries.
- Streamlining multi-year applications & expediting process for small dollar, cost-effective applications.
- Moving to electronic filing of all documents and increasing transparency on how E-rate dollars are spent and on prices charged for E-rate services.
- Simplifying discount calculations. For schools they will now calculate their discount as a simple, district-wide average, instead of the current weighted average.
The FCC has ensured that the new E-rate rules will be in place in time to support Wi-Fi upgrades across the country beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. Schools will be allocated $150 per student for the new Category 2. They will then apply their matrix discount (i.e., 85%, 80%, 70%, etc.) to the $150.
More details on these and more items in the order will be forthcoming once the written order becomes final and the analysis begins. Tip of the hat to our friends at the DPI for keeping us informed along the way.