Students today have the world's information at their fingertips. From smartphones to tablets to high-performance computers, accessing data online has never been easier.
Well, until now.
About two weeks ago, the Hall County school system went live with Internet 2, a unique network designed to give students and educators access to a seemingly endless supply of information.
What Internet 2 does is connect more than 66,000 research institutions, spanning more than 50 countries. Hall County is one of four K-12 systems in the state to connect. The Internet 2 network used at the state level by the University System of Georgia is called PeachNet.
Through Internet 2, local students can collaborate with professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and perform real-time experiments with their electron microscope, a $1 million piece of equipment that students would otherwise not have access to.
"(Internet 2) has many advantages over commercial networks," said Aaron Turpin, Hall County Schools' executive director of technology. "It's phenomenal."
Since the network is noncommercial, meaning
access to popular websites is unavailable, the traffic remains low and the power high.
"It allows us, because it's noncommercial, to get a lot more power for a lot less money," Turpin said.
The system relocated its tech center to the old South Hall High School campus, less than one mile from Lanier Technical College, where the county taps into the Internet 2 line. That line funnels into the terminus in Atlanta.
Students using this network have also been able to tap into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's live video feed of the Florida Reef, on the state's southern tip.
"Talk about an authentic learning experience," Turpin said. "That's cool."
The school system will also use the network to house its videoconferencing feed, the primary way it communicates between schools.
Schools are already using videoconferencing to enhance students' opportunities.
At West Hall High School, students are participating in a distance learning calculus program, where they take an on-campus calculus class at Georgia Tech via video.
The students, currently two at West Hall, receive credit for that class from Georgia Tech. There are 300 high school students in state who are using the program, along with 200 in-class college students.
"It's really an amazing process," said Laurie Ecke, an international baccalaureate coordinator at West Hall, adding that it is not considered an online class, but distance learning. "It's amazing how well (the students) do and how much they love it."
The new network allows for a more open connection, while keeping data transfer speeds high.
Although Turpin says while Internet 2 will eventually act as the exclusive student Internet, it will never fully replace the commercial network.
"Internet 2 will never take over Internet 1," Turpin said. "It is intended as a research institution network that certain K-12 schools can get on."
Hall County has been working on tapping into the network for about two years.