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Unified fiber service scores an ‘A’ with school co-op

The Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) wanted to upgrade its broadband and telecommunications service, but it was running into a major disconnect with its local telephone providers.

The K–12 educational cooperative provides professional services for teachers in 13 northeastern Georgia school districts and manages an alternative education school for students with behavioral challenges. In 2010, the organization decided it needed a consolidated voice and data communications system for its alternative school in Athens and its administrative offices in Winterville, and it needed to replace the T-1 line between the facilities with a faster connection.

There was just one problem: The Athens school was served by one incumbent telephone company, while the Winterville offices were served by another. So when Director of Technology, Tony Edwards, contacted the two telephone companies to ask about coordinating a service upgrade, it turned into a major headache.

Unreasonable plans

Neither telephone company could come up with a reasonable or cost effective plan. One telephone company came back with several issues for extending service outside its territory, while the other produced a price quote that was “just so outside the ballpark,” Edwards said.

Frustrated, he decided to contact Charter Business. As a residential Charter customer, he knew the cable operator was busy extending fiber in the region and that it offered business-oriented services, “so I decided to contact them and see what they had to offer.”

It proved to be a good move. Charter Business sales representatives worked with the co-op and came up with a service quote that provided a unified service at a good price.

“Once we got the ball rolling Charter Business was able to provide the best solution I could have hoped for,” Edwards said. “It was the best solution we could find because we didn’t have to deal with a boundary, and we had one provider, not two.”

30-minute cutover

“Their service is so much better than the competition. The sales people are more knowledgeable. It is so much better than dealing with the rest of them.”

–TONY EDWARDS,
Director of Technology,
Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency

Charter Business started building the fiber connection between the school and administration offices, provisioning the fiber Ethernet connection initially for 10Mbps between the two facilities and 20Mbps connection to the Internet. The actual cutover from the telephone company’s T-1 line to the Charter Business fiber connection took place in November 2010, and “it went better than I could have ever imagined,” Edwards said. “We literally switched over in 30 minutes time. It was truly amazing.”

The bigger bandwidth pipe has made a huge difference, allowing the school to tap into more remote education services and support more users simultaneously. In the past, it didn’t take much to overload the T-1 line, but with more than six times the bandwidth, the Charter Business fiber connection has no problem keeping pace with user demand.

“We have about 200 devices over at the school, plus another 75 here at the main office, and they just operate seamlessly,” Edwards said. “We can have three or four video conferences going at the same time and nobody misses a beat.”

Quick response

It’s also proven reliable. The only service outage occurred in early 2011, when a storm swept through Georgia, knocking out power throughout the region. Even then, Charter Business’ technical support was a vast improvement compared to the local phone company, Edwards said.

“The neat thing was even though it was 2:30 in the morning, Charter Business’ (Network Operations Center) called me and notified me that it was down,” he said. Even though he knew Charter Business could not be blamed for an act of Mother Nature, “I just appreciated them calling.”

The service was also quickly restored once power was restored, Edwards added.

“The biggest thing for me and the real deciding factor was if we got to a point where we needed to increase the bandwidth it was just a phone call and within a few hours it was done. That was so valuable.”

–TONY EDWARDS

It was a refreshing change from the local phone company’s typical response times. In fact, Edwards notes two weeks after the Northeast Georgia RESA made the cutover to Charter Business and turned off its T-1 line, the phone company notified him that the connection was down — apparently not realizing that the darkened T-1 circuit was due to a service cancellation as opposed to an outage.

Since then, Charter Business’ NOC has been “amazing,” Edwards said. “Anything that needs to be done can be done within an hour or so.”

Equally responsive are the sales account representatives. A Charter Business major account administrator keeps tabs on the billing and other issues that may arise — something Edwards says he’s never experienced before. The Charter Business account representative is also quick to respond.

“I could e-mail him now and he would email me back in 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “As opposed to the other one, where I would e-mail and it would take 24 hours to get a response.”

That responsiveness applies to future service needs as well. Thus far, the co-op’s users haven’t strained the 10Mbps connection. But if they do in the future, Northeast RESA has a much easier means to bump up the bandwidth.

“The biggest thing for me and the real deciding factor was if we got to a point where we needed to increase the bandwidth it was just a phone call and within a few hours it was done,” Edwards said. “That was so valuable.”

Voice service on the horizon

Northeast Georgia RESA also plans to buy Charter Business’ trunk voice PRI service once its current voice services contract with the phone company expires in 2013. Once that occurs, “we are going to allow them to take all the communications,” he said.

Overall, Charter Business has given the Northeast Georgia RESA a better connection with the teachers and students it serves.

“I would recommend their fiber services to anybody,” Edwards said.