Ashland School District is facing the same problems as many schools in Oregon. Oversized classrooms, limited resources and reduced budgets. Locally, schools had the additional burden of a recent school closure and new districting. On top of all the problems of the first weeks of school, ASD was plagued with telephone failures related to upgraded services through the Ashland Fiber Network.

“I’m pleased in these days of financial woes, we can provide assistance to the schools,” Mayor Alan DeBoer said in March about a telecommunications partnership between AFN and the School District.

In July, ASD adopted the new web-based phone service provided through AFN and Rio Communications. Rio Communications is a Bend-based integrated telecommunications service owned by the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians. Rio was to use AFN infrastructure to provide service for all 68 telephone lines at eight different locations throughout the school district. Rio’s service was promised to save the school district $45,000 over three years. AFN Director Dick Wanderscheid was quoted “It’s gratifying to see AFN bring about real solutions.”

As reported in the district’s Information Services Log, the phone problems were evident early in July as the new system first came online.

At this time, we are experiencing some post deployment issues regarding dropped packets resulting in very choppy and broken phone conversations. Additionally, you may hear an echo, and an occcasional busy signal. RIO/AFN are aware of all of these issues and are working diligently to resolve them.

The problem was blamed on incompatibility problems between AFN and Rio, but a feasable work-around was functioning. The district Information Services reports:

At this point, our phone calls *may* still have an occasional choppiness or echo to them. This work-around will allow them to work on the larger issue at hand which appears to be a hardware compatibility issue between AFN and RIO.

It was later found that the technical problems were much greater than a simple work-around could fix, as District IS reports in the log:

There is definitely an incompatibility with 2 pieces of hardware within AFN’s NOC (network operations center). There is a possibility that replacing one or the other units will resolve this issue. The unfortunate piece of information, is that both units are extremely expensive.

It seems that finding a solution would require an investment of time and money.
The IS log notes that AFN is working with local contracted technicians in addition to in-house technicians to attempt to rectify this problem as soon as possible. We can only speculate what more, if anything, was done. After July 31st there are no other notes in the IS log about any progress addressing the problems.

Soon after school started on September 11, phone service started failing at all school site and district buildings. Most parents were at first unaware that phone services was down as the only contact was through personal cellphones or email. There was no existing plan to deal with such a situation. Teachers and faculty quickly donated cell phone use at personal cost as the district doesn’t have a cellular plan.

By the second week, an announcement posted on the district website explained the situation:

All sites of the Ashland School District are experiencing periodic phone outages. In July, we adopted a new web-based phone service through the Ashland Fiber Network and Rio Communications. Last week, Rio’s network crashed, and they have been working to restore service. The District is evaluating if a web-based telephone service can meet our needs. In the meantime, all schools have cell phones to use for communication out in case of emergencies. If you are trying to contact a school, and cannot get through, please send an e-mail to the office manager. We will monitor e-mail carefully until our telephone difficulties are resolved.

By September 23rd the district announced they had enough and decided to switch to a different provider, Oregon Telecom, a land-based service. An Ashland Daily Tidings article reports that Oregon Telecom will not be using AFN for its infrastructure.

“It won’t be AFN,” said Chris Wick, Oregon Telecom independent contractor. “(Rio) installed some new technology and I would say it’s bleeding edge. I don’t think the bugs are out of it yet.”

In an attempt to save a few bucks, AFN set the Ashland schools up with substandard service and caused unnecessary chaos on the opening days of school. AFN let the District down and its up to them to make ammends.

Rio Communications faces lawsuits


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