MANATEE — Even though the two school employees were stuck at home with sick kids Friday, their boss, Tina Barrios, decided they would still attend an important meeting that day.
And they didn’t even have to leave their houses.
They interacted via video conference linking their respective homes to the Manatee County School District Professional Support Center at 2501 63rd Ave. E. in Bradenton.
It was part of a test on new fiber-optic cables in underground pipes the district recently installed throughout the county.
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The district, Manatee County government and the Florida Department of Transportation all pitched in to install more than 100 miles of underground pipes that allow each organization to install their own cables for their respective technology needs.
“We got our feet wet and now understand how it works,” said George Vensel, the district’s director of technology, said of Friday’s test. “It’s already saving us some money and improved our Internet speeds.”
Barrios, the district’s instructional technology supervisor, said she definitely noticed a difference during Friday’s transmission.
“With fiber we can bring much more people on at once because fiber is faster; you are able to connect and can have multiple people coming in with live video,” she said.
Only a handful of people could be online live together before, Barrios said.
“There is now enough capacity in these fiber optic cables that if schools want to run constant video feeds on multiple lines to each other, they can,” said Vince Hoaglin, district supervisor of network services. “It’s a big step forward for the entire school system.”
Eventually, it will advance classroom learning, he said. For example, a Manatee High School teacher will be able to teach a Russian literature class to students sitting in classrooms at other county high schools.
“We’ve got a very powerful system that will allow us to do new things in addition to improved video conferencing,” Vensel said. “Eventually we will even hook all our security cameras together using it.
The district paid $9.5 million to install the pipes and fiber optic cables for use in its 53 schools and administrative buildings.
The cost is a bargain over 25 years, Vensel said.
Now that the district owns the data transmission system, it no longer has to use operating funds to pay to lease lines. In addition, the new fiber optic lines will allow the district to save money on telephone expenses using new voice over the Internet technology.
“We have an ever increasing need for teachers and students using technology, including the Internet, at the schools,” Vensel said. “Ten years ago the need was almost nothing, but now we have over 2,500 computers in the district.”
The county and FDOT are preparing to install their fiber, Vensel said.
Manatee officials will use theirs for communications between police and fire stations, and FDOT will use its lines to control traffic signals, Vensel said.