Students at Barkley-Ruiz Elementary School peered curiously from behind an iron fence Friday morning as an industrial machine bored a hole into the ground underneath their campus.

They were there to witness the beginning of a months-long process to update San Antonio Independent School District’s internet infrastructure, increasing capacity and speeds.

SAISD officials plan to install almost 80 miles of fiber-optic cable to connect each district campus and office to one central high-speed network that SAISD will control and operate. SAISD currently works with AT&T for internet services, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.

The project is planned for completion by June 2020, in time for students to take advantage starting in the 2020-21 school year.

“Sometimes when you get high speed [internet] it isn’t consistent, depending on how many devices are on and how many people are using devices, it gets really inconsistent,” Martinez said. “That’s what happens in our classrooms everyday. … I constantly hear about it.”

Faster internet speeds are important to students like Amberly, a sixth grader at Barkley-Ruiz. When too many students try to connect to the internet in one class, kids get kicked off, she said.

Sixth graders Maggie and Olivia also want to see faster internet speeds. When students do group work, not everyone is able to access the applications, they said. It becomes challenging because large portions of students’ days are spent online.

“We rarely are not online,” Olivia said. “We use the internet for class every single day.”

SAISD’s fiber installation will make it possible for students to access the internet for learning anywhere on campus – on the playground, in a common area, in the library, or in the classroom, said Kenneth Thompson, SAISD’s chief information technology officer.

“This is more than overdue,” Thompson said, describing the current infrastructure as out of date.

The installation is funded by almost $15 million in federal and state dollars. SAISD is picking up about 5 percent of the total bill, Thompson said.

The updated internet network and speeds will be available for the next 10 to 20 years, SAISD officials estimated. It has unlimited capacity, allowing the district to scale the system for increases in student population, facilities, or higher needs from new equipment or tools that require a higher bandwidth.

Maggie and Olivia look forward to the time when internet speeds are faster. They want to use the system for a new all-girls robotics club they are starting at Barkley-Ruiz.

“It would be so much easier to do the coding if the internet doesn’t stop working,” Maggie said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.