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So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

LA schools' Wi-Fi networks to cost about $800 million

Chris Dag/Flickr

The Los Angeles Unified School District's board is scheduled to green light $66 million in Wi-Fi upgrades Tuesday, bringing the total reported costs of wifi upgrades needed for its 1:1 iPad proposal to $795 million. 

With that, iPad and wifi costs together would exceed $1.3 billion if the program is expanded to all district schools.

Officials did not take into account which schools were Wi-Fi ready at the start of the iPad program, so thousands of iPads went to schools that weren't equipped to get them online.

District officials have been scrambling this year to schedule upgrades. At a committee meeting last week, they reported 225 school sites now have enough bandwidth for all students to have iPads. The remaining 524 still aren't Wi-Fi ready.

"We can't just go to Best Buy and buy a few things off the shelf and put them in our classroom," said Ron Chandler, L.A. Unified's chief information officer. "This would rival a Southwest airlines. This would rival an OfficeMax. You got to think about something like that when you think about the size of this organization from a technology perspective."

Chandler said upgrades will take another year and half.

KPCC reported in December that Wi-Fi expansion would push up the cost of the iPad program — and that some of those costs were not included in L.A. Unified reports on its cost.

Much of the expense is laying wire to route up from the street grid, into a central wire closet and out to rooms. The wire is built to last.

The district's current estimate of $795 million for Wi-Fi upgrades, translates into $40 per student every year for the next 30 years based on current enrollment. Not included in that number are interest on the school bonds used to pay for the upgrades, network maintenance and costs associated with replacing tablets at the end of their life cycles — about four years. 

The $66 million before the school board Tuesday will go to begin construction at 66 sites, and enhance 229 earlier site upgrades with "scalable fiber" run in from the street for greater bandwidth:

  • $7.1 million: 6 school sites for design and construction (including fiber)
  • $41.4 million: 60 school sites for construction (including fiber)
  • $5.2 million: 102 school sites for fiber installation
  • $14.3 million: 127 school sites for fiber installation
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