Ethernet Over Cable TV

Network: Modesto City Schools succeeds with 10mb. Ethernet using Cable TV lines.

Don Peterson, Modesto City Schools

During the summer of 1994 Modesto City Schools was prepared to embark on a networking course recommended by Pac Bell. The plan included 56kb lines using frame relay from each of thirty-four (34) sites to the "cloud." The district office would be connected to the "cloud" by a T1 frame relay line. This seemed to be a viable solution and well within acceptable guidelines. The one problem facing me was how to increase the communication budget to cover this additional annual cost.

It just so happened that a meeting was scheduled with one of our contractors, Featherstone Communications, Inc., to validate some work that was completed. During this meeting Stan Mayer of Featherstone asked if the district would like to prototype a product called DataChannel, designed to use a portion of the bandwidth of a cable television network. This product was capable of connecting local area networks using Ethernet at 10 megabit speed. The best feature was that the transmission cost would be free! Naturally the response was "Yes, proceed with caution!"

Then came the meeting with the City of Modesto, Stanislaus County Department of Education, and Post-Newsweek Cable, our cable TV carrier. Fortunately the charter included channels for educational use and the cable company had the equipment necessary including backward amplification. The system uses two channels: one up and one down stream. The City of Modesto issued the appropriate approval and the prototype was scheduled. The timing was interesting because a meeting was scheduled with Featherstone representatives at the Fall, 1994, CEDPA conference in Long Beach. It was very surprising and encouraging to hear Dr. Bossert speak of the successful implementation of Ethernet over Cable TV in Hawaii.

The prototype was scheduled for the week of December 5th between District Office, Post-Newsweek Cable and Modesto High School. Featherstone dedicated two (2) days to the project. To our surprise, the entire system was up and running in four (4) hours! The existing bridge was replaced with the cable bridge with little disruption to users. After the installation the users were amazed at the throughput of the system. It is not surprising when the speed of transmission goes from 56kb point to point to a 10 megabit line. Post-Newsweek Cable and Featherstone were very accommodating and went out of their way to help.

The shakedown cruise went well. Since the original prototype, three additional sites have been installed. Additionally, the Stanislaus County Department of Education has been connected, which will be our Internet access point. There have been many calls about this project from Alaska to Virginia and every place in between. We received a letter from Delaine Easton expressing interest in a site visit and we will be arranging a visit to Washington, D.C. to present the system to Vice President Al Gore and the technology committee with our Representative Gary Condit.

If you would like more information on this system, please feel free to call me.

Don Peterson is M.I.S. Director for Modesto City Schools. He can be reached at (209) 567-4089.
Stan Mayer, Featherstone Communications Inc., can be reached at (310) 799-9494 or by mail at 10555 Bloomfield Street, Los Alamitos, CA 90720.