Students and teachers and Forest Park’s public schools can look forward to the end of Internet lapses at District 91’s five schools.

The district’s board of education voted unanimously at its August meeting to approve the installation of a cutting-edge, fiber-optic network to resolve a growing problem with the reliability of the district’s Internet connection.

The system, described as a “hybrid fiber solution,” is a relatively new AT&T product called the Opt-E-Man, which is also used by Dominican University. Its total cost over three years is estimated at just over $113,920, with an upfront cost of $10,417 and yearly costs of about $35,000.

“Fiber is the wave of the future. It’s now, it’s tomorrow, it’s possibly 20 years from now,” said district technology consultant Michael Roti. He said the changes the board approved will be like “going from an old, beat-up car to a Cadillac.”

Other options explored included simply repairing the district’s current T-1 lines, which would have cost $81,244 according to an estimate provided to the school board members, and the installation of a wireless network, which would have cost just under $108,500.

A full fiber network may have exceeded $200,000, according to the district, though no formal estimate was obtained.

Roti explained that the current setup leads to excessive downtime and slow connection speeds as the system is often overloaded by too many computers at once. The district has gone from 100 to 400 computers over the last five years.

He noted that receiving customer service has also been difficult as the various parties involved often all deny responsibility when problems first arise.

With the Opt-E-Man system, he said, AT&T guarantees no more than four hours of downtime following any connection problems.

Upgrading the current setup, he said, would accomplish little and would not even guarantee a notable improvement.

A wireless connection, he said, would improve the reliability and speed of the internal connection between the district’s computers, but the district would still be dependent upon the same obsolete infrastructure that causes its current problems for its Internet connection.

District 91 Supt. Randolph Tinder described the district’s Internet service over the past year as “sporadic” at best, explaining that teachers often had to shift their lesson plans after discovering that the connection was down on a day they had planned to use online resources.

Though some board members questioned the cost, Tinder said “if we can afford to do it for the teachers and kids, why wouldn’t we?” The district’s budget surplus for the 2006-07 fiscal year is projected at over $6.5 million.

Tinder also emphasized the point that, while current wireless technology may be obsolete in the relatively near future, fiber technology can be depended upon to remain current.

“There’s plenty of room for us to grow with this product,” he noted. The system allows new locations and added bandwidths to be added over time.

“We’ve been behind in technology for so long-it’s time to step ahead,” added Roti.