Getting Vertical: K-12 Education

N.J. School District Hits the Wall with Legacy Connectivity: But That Opens New Doors for Higher Bandwidth, Better Customer Service

By Paula Bernier

It’s amazing how a less-than-ideal situation can sometimes work out so beautifully in the end. That’s the moral of this story, featuring Jeff Janover and the Wall Township Public Schools.

Under Janover’s leadership as the director of technology, the district installed a private fiber network interconnecting the district’s 12 buildings, including seven schools. The district had 175 applications loaded on an application server farm, and about 3,500 thin client appliances in service. And it quickly became apparent that the 3mbps ATM link and handful of PRIs for the PBX (News - Alert) that the district had to the outside world wasn’t going to do the job.

But the New Jersey school district was is in the midst of a budget crisis, so Janover was asked to seek out some competitive bids. He did as he was told, all the while expecting the exercise would result in the district sticking with its existing service provider.

After getting a quote from Verizon, Janover called the local cable company, which referred him to its Optimum Lightpath (News - Alert) business.

“They sent in a quote, and I at first thought ‘They must be mistaken. There’s no way the quote they had sent out, with the quote that I had gotten from Verizon (News - Alert), could be accurate,’” says Janover, who invited Optimum Lightpath in for a visit to discuss the bid.

Two representatives from Optimum Lightpath later stopped by and walked him through the quote line by line, Janover says.

Ultimately, Janover signed on with Optimum Lightpath for a 100mbps Ethernet connection with Internet voice minutes as part of the bundle. The school district is saving $83,000 to $85,000 per year over what they would have had to spend on a 45mbps connection alone from Verizon, he says.

If the difference in pricing weren’t enough to convince Janover to make the change, however, the personal attention Optimum Lightpath offers might have done the job.

“The level of support and commitment was so great it really impressed me,” he says, adding that whenever he calls for support he either gets someone live immediately or they return his call within five minutes. “I’ve never had a better experience with any vendor I’ve ever worked with.”

Janover now marvels over the fact that he unknowingly put up for so long with terrible customer service and what he now realizes was antiquated pricing.

“We have been through years and years of neglect and fighting to prove we were a customer, to a situation where our account reps and tech reps are calling me on a regular basis and making sure that everything is going smoothly,” he says.

“We were able to get our cutover done when it was only supposed to be a three-month process,” he adds. “I kind of lit a fire under them … and we cut about a month off of the three-month process.”

As a result, Wall Township schools can now enjoy the benefits of high-speed data communications, including the ability to stream educational content from the Internet. And while the school district still is using an analog PBX from Mitel (News - Alert), Janover says it is very interested in replacing that with an on-premises IP PBX system, which could also leverage its Ethernet connection, in the not-too-distant future.

Mike Sevret, vice president of sales for New Jersey at Optimum Lightpath, says customers like Wall Township schools have been an area of focus for the service provider since about 2004, when the company started its vertical push.

“We take a lot of time, especially in the educational vertical, with customers, listening to what their pain points [are] and what they would like to see from a product standpoint in a perfect world,” says Sevret.

That resulted in Optimum Lightpath putting together product packages with bandwidth that can scale and with packages that bundle Internet and voice and include economical, flat-rate billing, he adds. IT