Let’s Talk About Bandwidth…

By this time I’m sure that we’ve all experienced the reality of bandwidth limitations at BLS. If you don’t know, “bandwidth” is the measure of the flow of internet data to our campus. It is the size of the “pipe” through which the stream of the internet flows.

BandwidthThere is a very real limit on the size of the pipe that connects BLS to the internet. IT uses some sophisticated hardware and software to help mitigate the effects of that limit and to ensure that our critical systems (like the phones) stay functional, but in the end there is only so much that can be done. When we use up all the available bandwidth, our experience of using the internet will suffer.

Several individuals have asked why we don’t have more bandwidth available. It would seem that increasing the size of our pipe (aka the amount of bandwidth) would be a simple fix for this problem. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. The reality of the way that the internet works is that we use all the available bandwidth almost the entire school day. If we were to increase the available bandwidth, we would very quickly use up all of that as well. We use what is available. There was a very clear picture of this truth on Monday. That day, the juniors and seniors were off-campus, and the freshmen and sophomores were participating in service activities. No one in the high school was using the internet in any significant way. All of the bandwidth of BLS was at the disposal of the middle and elementary schools, which have significantly fewer internet-connected devices. And yet, tests showed that we still used the maximum bandwidth the entire day!

The other limiting factor in this is simple economics. Our geographic location makes increasing bandwidth very expensive. There just isn’t a lot of internet infrastructure coming this far up Monticello Road, and there aren’t any businesses past us that would make expansion worthwhile for the telecommunications providers. That means the cost of any improvements must be financed by us.

So what does this mean for us? Well, for starters, it means that IT is doing a great job of managing the limited bandwidth resources that we have so that the effects go largely unnoticed. Even though we use all available bandwidth almost all the time, most users do not notice this very often unless they are trying some particularly bandwidth-heavy task like streaming video.

The second, important implication for us is that we need to think creatively about how we use the internet. General web surfing uses very little bandwidth. Even streaming audio has a small bandwidth footprint. It is streaming video that is the main culprit for issues we may encounter. Think about the design of your class and how you can best face this reality to minimize problems. I am not saying that you should never have anyone streaming video. I am saying that if you can download a video ahead of time you should. If you can’t, be prepared for the possibility that it doesn’t work. Also, think about efficiency. If you want everyone to see the same video, show it on the TV or screen instead of having everyone stream it to his or her iPad. And, of course, always be mindful of whether your students are on task. Non-instructional videos aren’t just distracting in your classroom… they may also be causing a problem in the class next door!

Finally, please don’t see this as an attempt to shut you up if you are one of those who has reported a problem. If you experience a drop in connectivity, it is still important that you report those incidents to the helpdesk. It is important that we have a record of these events when they occur. If the problem you are experiencing is not caused by bandwidth limitations, helpdesk staff will work to correct whatever they can. Just be prepared that if it is, there may not be anything that they can do about it.

If you have other questions about this, or if you would like help with how to accomplish your curricular goals in light of these things, please let me know. I want to make sure that you are equipped with all of the knowledge and tools that you need to be successful in your job!