Comcast Lifts Sacramento Schools

Students in Sacramento, Calif. are entering the digital information age, thanks to a fiber backbone built by Comcast Corp.

The educational network is a requirement of the transfer agreement the operator signed in order to take over operations of the local former AT&T Broadband system.

But the operator has delighted local officials by delivering the network — Broadband Education Services Technology Network (BESTNet) — ahead of schedule, and with more capacity than required.

Local officials lauded Comcast's cooperative approach to the project. Not only did the company save the schools money by building the Gigabyte network with 40% more capacity than called for in the contract, but individual campuses will save money on communications costs each month.

One school in Elk Grove estimated it will save up to $7,000 monthly compared to what it now pays SBC Communications Inc. each month for a T-1 phone line.

Rich Esposto, executive director of Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Commission, said if the county had had to build the network at cost, it would have cost $7 million for phase one.

The first phase extends broadband connectivity from the Sacramento County Office of Education and California State University Sacramento to the San Juan, Folsom-Cordova, Sacramento City and Elk Grove unified school districts.

Phase two, which would link every school in the district within the next 90 days, will cost another $4 million to $5 million.

The county is in negotiations for Comcast to wire the schools, too.

Comcast's franchise fees will help pay for the school's programming, also. One entity so funded is the local public broadcaster, KVIE.

According to a statement by station general manager David Hosley, KVIE has a new strategic plan that puts greater emphasis on programming for the schools.

The network shouldn't lack for programming. It's been a longstanding franchise requirement, and as the county worked with the system's various owners to try to get the infrastructure built, the Sacramento Education Cable Consortium has developed content.

The collaboration between predecessor cable operators, the county and schools had been "difficult," Comcast spokes-woman Susan Gonzales said. "We're extremely excited to provide this service, which will enable things like video conferencing and interdistrict communications."

The debut use of the network enabled a "remote field trip" by seventh-grade life sciences students to two state parks.

Esposto said the development of the network signaled a new era of cooperation between cable and regulators in Sacramento. Past cable relations have been "contentious," he added.

"I'd like to think we're past that," he added. "If I play hardball, they play hardball. Instead, at the transfer, I said, 'Let's work together.' "

The county also approved an agreement with the regional overbuilder, SureWest Communications, to extend the gigabyte network to the school districts in its service area.