Broadband Providers - Making the right choice

Where do you start when it comes to renewing your school’s broadband? The easiest option might be to stay with the same provider; much less hassle! But if your internet connection is slow or unreliable, or you have plans to grow your use of tablets, you need a connection that can provide you with right speeds; it’s a good idea too, to get a contract that offers ease of flexibility so it’s easy to change as your use of technology grows in the classroom. But what speed do you choose? A 100Mbps (megabits per second) connection, 200, 300, 500 or now even up to 10GBps (Gigabits per second) from some providers. There’s a lot to understand and a lot to be aware of.

In addition, there are two further key considerations when choosing your school’s broadband provider; web filtering and network security. The explosion in cyberattacks, (last year, over three billion records were leaked by organisations, including education establishments,) the introduction of tighter data protection regulations (GDPR) and the DfE’s more stringent web filtering regulations means your broadband provider will need to have this covered as well. There’s a lot resting on your decision then to make the right choice. The following words of advice will help demystify some of the terminology and give you a better understanding of what you need to ask when choosing your new provider.

Internet Connection Speeds

A Private Leased Line, that’s your own fibre connection dedicated entirely to your school, is generally recommended for all secondary schools and larger primary schools. They’re the fastest of all the connections and depending on the provider, can provide anything from 10Mbps to 10Gbps.

A Fibre to the Cabinet Connection, (FTTC) that’s fibre that comes from the BT exchange to the cabinet in your street, is a good choice for small primary schools with up to about 200 pupils. This works on a standard BT phone line so is very cost-effective.

Small to medium sized primary schools, say between 200 and 400 pupils, would normally have a connection known as EoFTTC or Ether over Fibre to the Cabinet. This is the same as FTTC but has a piece of equipment at either end of the connection to guarantee a segment of maximum speed, protecting your connection when bandwidth demand is high. This allows your office to maintain its broadband dependent functions whilst bandwidth is still available for classroom use.

Web Filtering

Web Filtering for schools has recently undergone big changes. The Department for Education’s statutory guidance ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ obliges schools and colleges in England to “ensure appropriate filters and appropriate monitoring systems are in place. Children should not be able to access harmful or inappropriate material from the school or colleges IT system” however, schools will need to “be careful that “over blocking” does not lead to unreasonable restrictions as to what children can be taught with regards to online teaching and safeguarding.”

The biggest change is the requirement for web filters to provide monitoring and reporting on an individual user’s level. This saw hiked-up prices from some providers for this additional feature, however providers such as Schools Broadband build this in to their package option. Schools Broadband is also able to provide proactive and suspicious search reports and alerts as well as mobile device management for off-site devices. It is a statutory requirement that schools must use a web filtering provider who is a member of the Internet Watch Foundation.

Network Security

The world of network security is becoming more specialist, and often Network Managers will outsource security to third party companies known as Managed Security Service Providers or MSSPs. This is due to the avalanche of advanced persistent threats that on-site firewalls are beginning to show signs of struggling with.

Most schools currently deploy on-site firewalls, but the change in the threat landscape leaves on-site firewalls with limited defence capacity. They need regular upgrades to fend off new attacks, meaning they require new hardware and more money. Cloud hosted firewalls on the other hand, means schools can be connected to the best security defences in the world with the ability to respond automatically to new threats by the minute.

When we talk about cloud-hosted services, what we’re actually referring to are state of the art data centres where equipment is looked after in secure environments. Because cloud-based applications are bought as a service rather than purchased, it’s a great way of providing affordable, high grade solutions for schools. The Schools Broadband hosted network is built on world-leading carrier grade technologies, using Next Generation FortiGate Firewalls and was awarded Best Security Internet Service Provider 2017 by the Internet Service Providers Association.

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