Is a private ISP right for your school

should your school move away from the LA connection?


Wildern's existing contract is up so I'm looking to change to another private ISP after our first 3 years off the Hampshire County provisioned network, or HPSN.

 In Hampshire the cost of the LA provided connection is calculated per pupil as the costs are flattened out across all schools on the service. We wanted to support this structure, as in theory smaller schools are subsidised by those that have greater resource. However, for a school like ours with close to 2,000 students it resulted in a hefty bill which we simply couldn’t justify compared to the competing quotes, so we had to try to find a suitable alternative.

The process of changing providers is in principle fairly simple, but the economy very much depends on the schools’ proximity to the required telecom infrastructure and how much extra (if any) fibre needs to be laid to access it. These are called Excess Construction Charges and only happen once your order is confirmed (you should still get the option to cancel at that point though).

A lot of schools are looking at their options, although I would steer well clear of blanket recommending schools drop the Local Authority connection. While it's cheaper in a lot of cases to choose an alternative to the HPSN service, it is fully managed, which is an important difference to the standard ISP connection where they give you a cable and let you fill your boots.

Content filtering is the obvious issue which everyone points out, but there is a lot more to it than just stopping the kids looking at Playboy; the main issue for me here is that not all ICT staff in schools are qualified to implement the appropriate security measures required by a  totally open Internet connection. Once you open up the Internets you need to be responsible for all the firewalling - in and out of the school - and having the flexibility to open up services to the Internet (such as remote access for staff) presents a whole load of potential vulnerabilities, all of which the school becomes legally responsible for.

So in summary, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly but if your school is considering it, here are a few of the key questions you’ll need to answer:

  • How much bandwidth do you use at the moment, where is it going, what is the trend?
  • How big does the line need to be?
  •  What can't you do at the moment
  • Do you need a different Internet connection
  • Do you have a fast enough router, and the expertise to configure it?
  • How much extra equipment is required?
  • Do you need a backup line?
  • What happens when things go wrong?
  • Will extra licensing be required for software based filtering?
  • What is the SLA?
  • How long will the changeover take?

As with all changes in ICT, be sure that this is really the right thing for your school before taking the plunge. And if you decide it it - good luck!

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