Back to the Basics

Back to the Basics: Who provides leased fiber connections

By statute, the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission (ITTC) is required to lease connections to schools, libraries, AEAs, judicial, correctional services connections, and connections to state agencies that are paid with state funding. A connection is the physical connection from the Network to ICN’s authorized user location.

The state funded $35.5 million in installation costs for the connections to school, library, and AEA (Part III) sites as well as paying a monthly lease cost.

When Network construction plans were first implemented to connect K-12 schools, libraries, AEAs and state agencies, the legislature wanted the private telecommunications providers to have an opportunity to serve their local areas. Back to the Basics: Who provides leased fiber connections Companies winning the leasing bids for schools, libraries and AEAs were also provided with funds to construct the required infrastructure.

ICN partners with the following private sector telecommunications companies to provided Part III leased connections. In total there are 330 Part III sites leased in partnership with 42 vendors.

  • Windstream
  • G4S Technology LLC
  • Regulated Companies
  • Independent Telecommunications Companies
  • Municipal Utilities
  • Other

Back to the Basics: Advertised versus Real Speed

Advertised speeds are rarely, if ever, possible to achieve. For downloading, rates vary depending on how far a home connection is from the service provider, how many active users are on the network and other factors. Providers can’t predict exact speeds for a location, therefore speeds are often advertised in a range. Some reasons why a person might not receive the advertised transfer rate include:

  • Time of day they access the network; during peak time, the network can only handle a certain amount of data
  • Distance they are from the provider equipment—in most cases, the closer to the provider equipment the faster the data will transfer
  • Type of broadband connection
  • Equipment or programs installed (i.e., firewalls, wireless adapters, outdated computer technologies)

Running a speed test and contacting the service provider can help a user receive the service being paid for. To run a speed test, visit Connect Iowa at at

Source: Wisconsin’s Broadband Reference Guide, January 2014

Back to the Basics: Standby and Protect

A Standby & Protect arises when a contractor notifies the ICN Outside Plant (OSP) that a buried ICN fiber cable has been reported within or near a project area that requires extensive and/or precise digging near the ICN cable. At that time, an OSP team member will verify the presence of an ICN cable within/near the project area. If the ICN is impacted, a Standby & Protect plan is coordinated with the contractor.

Once on the job site, a locator is hooked up at the nearest ICN located pedestal. The locator will provide location and depth readings of the fiber cable. At that time, we begin communicating this information with the contractor. For example, if the ICN cable is located 36” deep, we would instruct the backhoe operator to take a scoop or two of dirt off of the surface. At that time, we would approach the excavated area and get a new/updated location and depth reading. This approach would continue until the backhoe operator has excavated within 8-12 inches of the ICN cable. At that time we would hand-dig the remaining dirt with a shovel to expose the cable.

Once the fiber has been exposed, our responsibility is to make sure that the contractor does not damage our fiber while completing their project.

Back to the Basics: The difference between 99.999% and 99%

A telecommunications carrier has a responsibility in ensuring that its Network is reliable and highly available when delivering its service to its users 99.999% (five 9s) of the time. To calculate this concept, one takes the minutes in a year, then the minutes in a hour, times 24 hours, times 365, which equals 525,600 minutes in a year (Equation: 1 year = 365 days = 365 x 24 hours = 365 x 24 x 60 minutes = 525,600 minutes). In other words, it means that there can be no more than five minutes total downtime per year. Five 9s reliability ensures that users will receive the highest level of service possible within the industry.

Commercial grade reliability standards are usually at 99%. The difference between five 9s and 99% reliability is significant in network availability. 99% availability translates to 5,256 minutes (87.4 hours or 3.65 days) of potential downtown. Network downtimes can occur as a result of emergency situations (floods or tornados) that directly impact a network. These are the times when a reliable/redundant network is critically needed. During these downtimes a provider usually has eight hours of battery backup, however battery backup is expensive, but crucial for continued connectivity.

chart of availability per day, month and year

Five 9s is considered public safety grade reliability, which is important for Iowa and the FirstNet initiate. To learn more about FirstNet visit

Back to the Basics: Different Fiber Types

The use of the Internet over the past decade has grown tremendously. The 2014 Cisco Visual Networking Index projects that by 2018, IP traffic in North America will reach 40.5 exabytes per month (1 exabyte equals over 1.073 billion gigabytes), at a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent. Monthly Internet traffic in North America will generate 7 billion DVDs’ worth of traffic, or 26.4 exabytes per month, a measurement that is not even in society’s common direct buried outside fiber, orange, yellow dry space fiber, orange and yellow thin jumper fiber cables

To keep up with this demand, fiber optic is the infrastructure of choice, and is the leading technology for telecommunications networks.

Fiber optic technology converts electrical signals carrying data to light and sends the light through transparent glass fibers about the diameter of a human hair.

There are many colors of fiber that you may see making these vital connections. Black covered fiber is direct buried outside, whereas yellow and orange covered fiber runs in dry spaces inside buildings. All fiber optics are routed to a distribution panel, and smaller jumper fiber cables are then connected to equipment.

Fiber is often said to be “future-proof” because the data rate of the connection is usually limited by the terminal equipment rather than the fiber, permitting speed improvements by equipment upgrades. This is true for ICN as we finished upgrading our terminal equipment in 2013.

What Do iPads/Laptops Have To Do With the ICN

With many Iowa schools implementing the 1:1 laptop or tablet program and the continuous focus on STEM, ICN provides many schools with Internet and data services necessary for a successful program. Interest in one-to-one computing is on the rise because of its potential to improve access to online curricula, collaboration on school projects, and communication between teachers and students.tablet and laptop with photos of students studying at school and home

Placing computers, mobile or otherwise, in the hands of every student and teacher is more than buying the devices. It requires a significant amount of bandwidth/capacity to assure usable connectivity to all. Traditional educational content has been limited to “hard copy” sources such as textbooks, encyclopedias and newspapers. This is rapidly changing because of the availability of real time network connectivity everywhere, not just in the classroom. Electronic textbooks are becoming more widely available, which require high bandwidth connectivity. “We could not do this [1 to 1 laptop] initiative without the ICN. It’s critical to have the infrastructure in place when handing teachers and students a piece of equipment that completely relies on the technology,” said Waverly-Shell Rock’s Director of Educational Services.

It is estimated that around 120 school districts participate in the 1 to 1 program and many of those use ICN for mobile connectivity. Schools have various policies in regards to students taking home the devices, however not all students have reliable Internet access outside of school.

size comparison between fiber, cable, DSL, wireless, T1 line, phone line with fiber being the largest circleHow Big is a Gig? Download Speed Comparison

When compared to the speed that is available with other technology, fiber can offer the highest speed of data transmission, allowing for greater reliability and less instances of congestion. The current definition of broadband by the FCC is download speeds at or above 4 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds at 1 Mbps, but with the rise of streaming, the FCC is soliciting public comments on whether broadband speeds should be redefined.

The 2014 Broadband Service Inventory in the State of Iowa map from Connect Iowa shows Iowa incorporates various broadband infrastructures such as Fiber, Cable, DSL, Fixed Wireless, and Mobile Wireless with advertised speeds of at least 6 mbps downstream and 1.5 mbps upstream.

Connect Iowa’s 2012 Average Residential Download Speed for the State of Iowa map shows central Iowa and various counties average residential download speeds mostly fall in three tiers that range from 3 Mbps to < 25 Mbps. Other counties in Iowa fall in the lower tiers ranging from 3 Mbps to 768 Kbps.

What is Broadband?

Broadband matters to education, healthcare, public safety and government. So what is it? Broadband service provides a higher-speed of data transmission - how fast data downloads from the Internet Service Provider to the user (whether on a phone, computer, or tablet).

In the past the information (data) was very small, now files are much larger in size.  Today YouTube videos and online news need more speed to download or stream without buffering.  Broadband strength is measured by how fast videos can stream or large content pieces can download.

In the State of Iowa, officials are asking questions about broadband.  Do we have enough? Is there enough broadband connectivity in all areas of the State?  Are there areas in the State where there is not yet broadband, which are considered unserved or underserved?

Expect to hear continued discussion about broadband from the State of Iowa, ICN, and the private telecommunications providers.

Learning ICN 101

Take a moment to learn about the important and critical infrastructure that Iowa has in the state-wide fiber optic Network.

  1. The Network is 100% fiber, which is state-of-the-art infrastructure. Fiber optic technology is the leading technology for telecommunications networks everywhere in the world. Recent enhancements increased bandwidth to all 99 counties with a 10 GB capable backbone. The Network can currently operate at 100 GB, and has an upgrade path of up to 400 GB for future growth, a level of capacity far beyond what is currently available from any other network in the state. The Network can meet the needs of our users today, and is positioned to meet their future needs.
  2. ICN continues its dedication to education, and provides high speed Internet to schools where the Network is connected. An example of that commitment is the Iowa City school district, which was the first gigabit school in the state to subscribe to a full 1 GB of bandwidth for Internet through the ICN. There are numerous school districts in Iowa with 1 GB of high speed Internet access available, if they choose to subscribe at that level.
  3. ICN is working with school districts to move from the traditional video platform to a more cost-effective Internet-based video experience that will free up dedicated classrooms for other uses. ICN is aware that the traditional video classroom equipment has aged, but that equipment is owned by the schools or other authorized users, not the ICN.
  4. The Network has evolved to provide critical communications to hospitals, public safety, state/federal government entities, and for the statewide Next Generation 911 system. The ICN is designed as a secure data network, having the ability to survive a cyber-terrorist attack or natural disaster to protect the public. The National Homeland Security Office has identified Iowa as being one of the top states prepared for such an event by having the ICN as a private, secure, and functional Network for Iowa.
  5. ICN has numerous arrangements with vendors in the private sector, demonstrating important public/private partnerships. We have provided nearly $200 million of income to the private sector in the over 20 years of operation.

What is E-Rate and How it Saves Millions for Schools & Libraries

There were 279 Iowa schools and libraries that saved $4.7 million in Internet, Data, Voice (phone), and Video discounts with the ICN during fiscal year 2013 (7/01/2012 thru 6/30/2013). These discounts are made possible with the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) e-rate program and ICN’s common telecommunications carrier status

The Universal Service Fund, commonly known as “E-Rate,” is administered by the USAC under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission, and provides discounts to assist most schools and libraries in the United States to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access. Funding is requested under the following categories: telecommunications service, Internet access, internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections.

In order to receive the federal discount funding, the State of Iowa is required to make an appropriation investment, which is requested from the legislation each year for qualifying network equipment. This designation of funding is not for the operation or maintenance of the Network. ICN’s K-12 schools and library users saved $3.7 million for voice and data, and over $1 million in video in FY 2013.

Discounts for support depend on the level of poverty and the urban/rural status of the population served, and ranges from 20% - 90% of the costs of eligible services.

Explaining How the Network was Created with Parts I, II and III

In 1989, the Iowa Legislature passed legislation that called for the construction of a shared statewide telecommunications network. At that time the Network had a vision of mostly distance learning. The bill was signed into law by Governor Branstad and in 1991 construction began. The end goal was to construct one fiber optic endpoint in every Iowa county which was accomplished in two parts. ICN became a State agency in 1994 and the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission (ITTC) was established by the Legislature as the ICN’s governing body. ICN Fiber Map

Part I was the initial build-out of the Network. This build-out consisted of installing one fiber optic endpoint at the three Iowa regent universities, 15 community colleges, Iowa Public Television in Johnston, and the State Capitol Complex in Des Moines with fiber-optic connections to the central switching hub of the Network located at Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ) in Johnston, IA. Part II was the fiber build-out to create a point of presence in the remaining 84 Iowa counties. Parts I and II of the network are owned by
the State and became operational in 1993.

Part III was authorized by the Governor in 1995. It involved connecting authorized users throughout the state such as public and private school districts, libraries, area education agencies, etc. Part III connections consist primarily of leased connections from private providers. The first Part III site became operational at Battle Creek-Ida Grove High School in 1995. Many Part III connections connect one building within the school district, and the school district obtains services for the other buildings from a different provider.

The network as a whole ensures that students statewide receive equitable access to high quality educational
opportunities using video, Internet and other telecommunications services provided by the ICN. 

Data versus Internet

You may not have realized or understood the difference between Internet and data.  To illustrate this and how the ICN provides these services, we will use a train analogy. The ICN Network is the green tracks and the stations along the tracks are our users (Judicial Branch, Iowa State Patrol, Hospitals and Clinics, Libraries, and Area Education Agencies.) Data is the individual cars of the train (i.e. a package of information) that move along the tracks which can be an email, IP video, or voice (VoIP – voice over IP). click to enlarge train depiction and get more detailAn Ethernet connection is one possible engine providing a fast speed at which the data travels along the track.

The ICN tracks are laid state-wide, and include both the owned fiber and leased fiber connections.  If someone within state government sends an email to someone else in state government, this is a data connection since the packet of information stays on the ICN fiber tracks. If an email is sent to a business or entity outside of state government (and not to an ICN authorized user), the Internet comes into play, because it needs to divert off our ICN fiber tracks (offshoot of tracks on the left side of the picture.) The email is sent to an outside station to travel anywhere in the state or world.

The AEA’s (Area Education Agencies) are each stations, also known as aggregation sites that have their own smaller offshoot of tracks which connect K-12 schools in their geographical area (offshoot of tracks on the right side of the picture.) They are able to provide lower cost service to the schools since they can provide a single connection to our network, instead of each school having to build out their own connection/tracks.

With Internet service, an entity or individual can browse websites without any exchange of data. It is not considered data usage until data like an email is sent or a video is uploaded or downloaded.

Network Users

Created 20 years ago for education through distance learning, no one could envision how critical the Network backbone would be today to state government, the judicial branch, healthcare, public safety and libraries.

With many schools implementing the 1:1 laptop or iPad program, the focus on STEM, and the increasedICN logo - green circles with icons depicting the authorized user areas on swoosh from upper right to lower left demand for bandwidth, education continues to use a large amount of Network bandwidth.

Hospitals and physicians clinics benefit from “telemedicine” for diagnostic, clinical, consultative, data, and educational services for the delivery of health care services by licensed health care professionals or hospitals.

State Judicial Branch and judicial district departments of correctional services use the Network to reduce prisoner transportation costs, improve efficiency, and shorten case time.

Public Safety
Iowa Department of Public Safety, Public Defense, the Iowa National Guard, and Iowa’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division utilize the Network.  HSEMD’s Next Generation (NG) 911 initiative will connect Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) throughout the State.  Iowa is poised for the construction of FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority), which is being overseen by the Iowa Statewide Interoperability Board.

City, regional, county or libraries that are part of an authorized user facility can connect to the Network.  These libraries are centers for lifelong learning within communities, provide equity of access to information and publications in all formats, and a place for people to gather for meetings, classes and discussion groups.

The equipment in the video sites around the state is owned by each authorized user, not by ICN. ICN provides the Network connection for those sites to connect in a cost-effective environment.