Planning Community Area Networks

Ready for the next step? It's time to roll up your sleeves and begin some preliminary planning. Find somebody that's particularly excited about maps. Give them the list of organizations and addresses you have developed thus far. Don't get caught up with huge poster-sized GIS drawings yet. Google Maps is perfectly fine at this stage of the project. Look for natural patterns that would make for logical fiber paths. Walking and bike paths are really good. Cemeteries and railroad yards are difficult.

Pro-tip: If you don't already have somebody from the city and/or county, it's time to expand your people network a bit further. These folks have a few tricks up their sleeves. First, they own interesting right-of-ways. You'll need permits down the line - these folks will become best friends with you and especially your contractors. Second, these city and county folks generally know the schedule of what's being torn up when. Finally, these folks generally have the best idea of what is currently buried underground. We've seen projects start in the $100,000's and drop to the $1,000's when a strategic piece of existing conduit (pipe in the ground) is discovered simply by talking with our friends at the city.

Permits? Cemeteries? Right-of-ways? Hang with me, friend. We'll get back into your wheelhouse soon. Besides, we'll find other people that will be in charge of worrying about these details. Your job is a) keep bringing more people to the table and b) keep learning.

Bandwidth Targets for K12 Schools

I'm going to talk to the schools for a bit. The rest of you can follow along if you wish. What should a school be planning for? In May 2012, SETDA released the groundbreaking report, The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs. The Broadband Imperative provides an up-to-date assessment of access to broadband by students and teachers (in and out of schools); current trends driving the need for more broadband in teaching, learning and school operations; and specific recommendations for the broadband capacity needed to ensure all students have access to the tools and resources they need to be college and career ready by 2014-15 and beyond.

Types of Fiber Services

We are going to cross into a bit of network engineering nerdery for a few moments here. Fiber optic cabling is simply a thin string of glass surrounded by 12, 24, 48, 96, or 144 other similar strands of glass. We prefer burying it in the ground, though stringing it to a pole works in some situations. That stuff is pretty straight forward.

In the fiber world, there's "lit fiber" and "dark fiber" just to make things interesting. The "lit" stuff is being used. The "dark" stuff is unused. Seems obvious, but "lit vs. dark fiber" is akin to "rent vs. own" comparison. The economics of the different options are presented to you very differently. You will need to compare the two options carefully in order to figure out what's best for your situation. Think about those days in your early 20's renting apartments and dealing with landlords compared to life in your 40's owning your own home. There are benefits and drawbacks on each side of this coin. There's also a "self construction" option where neither lit or dark fiber is available. Today, self construction is an interesting option that can be funded by the FCC E-rate and/or Healthcare Connect programs provided that you can show that it’s the lowest cost option for your organization. More on that later.

Lit Fiber

"Lit fiber" refers to fiber-optic cable (used for carrying data between two designated points) that has been installed and activated by carriers. These carriers lease access to their fiber-optic cables and provide fully-managed services to clients for a monthly recurring fee. Currently, lit fiber is the most common way that school districts and businesses receive transport and Internet access.

Dark Fiber

"Dark fiber" refers to fiber-optic cable that has already been installed (either buried or aerial) but is not yet in use. Dark fiber is typically sold without any equipment on the ends of the fiber, with the customer responsible for adding the electronics at both ends. Thousands of miles of dark fiber are available in the United States. For school districts near dark fiber, this could be a viable alternative to “lit” services, as it provides cost and scalability advantages.

Self construction

"Self-Construction" In many rural areas, telecommunications and broadband providers have little economic incentive to build out fiber-optic networks. Schools in these locations have often been unable to find affordable high-speed broadband. Given the recent changes in E-rate, schools now have the option to affordably build out their own dark fiber to their schools in a process known as self-construction, as long as they can demonstrate it is the lowest-cost option.


It's time to consider engaging the engineers. Not the choo choo engineers, the folks that figure out how and where we get the fiber into the ground. We are now crossing into the world of investing a bit of real money into your Community Area Network. Gather up your list of friends (and potential friends) along with all of their details. Give us a holler here at WiscNet. We'll match you up with the types of folks that do this sort of preliminary work of planning where the network goes. Typically, this sort of work runs from $2,000 - $5,000 to have a study completed that will set you up for the next phase of the project.



The peak represents the greatest total simultaneous traffic demand. You need to be able to handle “peak” events.


Your network should not be running consistently at 100% peak utilization (if it is, then you likely need more bandwidth). WiscNet recommends adding a xx% bandwidth buffer to your peak demand estimate to cover overhead usage of other applications that may be in use simultaneously.


As you enter into a multi-year contract with your service provider, it’s critical to think about the total bandwidth you will need over the lifetime of the contract - and ensure that your service provider is able and willing to help you cost-effectively scale over time.


Each BYOD device in the network adds additional load and should be factored into the overall calculation of required bandwidth.


The only way to understand if your network is most cost-effectively meeting the needs of your students is to understand how much it is being used. By monitoring your network you can make sure that you are not over or under-provisioning. WiscNet members can visit http://nrg.wiscnet.net for more information and to monitor their own network usage.