California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 37, No. 4
June-July, 1997

Dial-Up Internet Access

Service: Modem connectivity launched for all County schools and districts.

Judy Acosta, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools

Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Office, Information Technology Services, is offering dial-up Internet access to all employees of the County Office, schools and districts in Ventura County. While this may be “old hat” to some of you, it is a new experience for us. We started with a small pilot group of about 15 people from our own office, and that was great. We then extended it to all VCSSO employees, and that went pretty well also. We then expanded that group to include one school district in the County--mind you, we were still in the pilot phase. Hey--this isn’t so bad. Famous last words. We mailed out brochures about our service to all schools and districts in the County at the end of April, and our phones haven’t stopped ringing yet.

The major problems we have encountered relate to installation. Once past installation and successful connection, we seldom hear from the user again. So far, that is. We are supporting three different platforms--Windows 3x, Win95, and Macintosh. If we were having a contest to see which platform presented the most problems, it would be--#1-Macintosh, #2-Win95, and #3-Windows 3x. We purchased software to help with the Mac installation, Netscape Navigator, Personal Edition, or the users can use the Apple Internet Connect Kit which many of them received when they purchased their computers. This has helped tremendously. We are providing Internet Explorer for the other two platforms because it contains a dialer and mail all in one package.

We offer installation services at an additional cost, but discourage users from selecting this option. The installation is simple and the directions are step by step and easy to read. However, quite often there are minor differences between what’s displayed on the user’s screen and what’s in the instructions. Sometimes, though, they are in sync! Most users cope well with this, but it does tend to worry them a bit. Some users don’t bother to read the instructions from beginning to end (surprise, surprise) and try to start somewhere in the middle. It’s a real challenge to find out what the problem actually is.

Modems seem to be another problem area—sometimes they just are not compatible with the dial-up adapter. When this is determined to be the problem, the users have accepted our judgment with no hesitation and are willing to replace their old modems in order to “get connected”. The cost of the service is so reasonable that they don’t mind spending money to bring their hardware up to date. As one user laughingly stated, “You know Judy, it has cost me $xxx, in order to get this cheap rate. I’m not sure that’s much of a savings.” Of course, this particular user needed a memory upgrade and a new modem plus they wanted to move from Windows to Win95.

At the current time, we are offering support between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM. Our phones get real busy around 4 PM, believe me! Thank the powers that be for voice mail. Our users have been great. They are polite, patient, and grateful for the help that you give them. We have made a few “house calls”, but for the most part, if a problem cannot be solved over the phone, customers will bring their computers (CPU) and modems to us and we can work on the problem here. This saves everyone a great deal of time and money.

We are having a lot of fun with this new venture, and we hope our customers are too. They seem to be. We’ll see where this takes us, and if we will continue to grow at the pace that we are growing now. This may become a “Perils of Pauline” series for future DataBus articles.

I’ll keep you posted.

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