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From left Paul Belk, president and CEO of NGN; Jason Smith, vice president of business development for ETC; and David Parker, founder and sole managing member of Piker FiberNet, shake hands after signing the agreement for the Education Exchange. Photo by Whitney Crouch, Times-Courier

A high-speed fiber-optic network that will connect more than 330 schools and 250,000 students across North Georgia is the first of its kind in the nation, its founders said.

The Education Exchange, a 3,600-mile network that will deliver access to textbooks, classroom resources and instructional material through its own 10-gigabit connection, is a joint project of the North Georgia Network, Parker FiberNet and ETC Communications. It was announced at a news conference in Ellijay, Ga.

Paul Belk, president and CEO of North Georgia Network, said he came up with the idea three years ago. He said that although schools often see themselves as competing with each other, the network will allow them to share their strengths and resources.

"We've made the educational world flat," he said. "This is one big school system."

David Parker, president of Parker FiberNet, said the schools are somewhat familiar with this approach, as each school in an individual district is connected to all the others. He also said there aren't any concerns about Internet speed or connectivity with so many users.

"The school systems already know and understand that we know how to deliver our technology," he said.

Michael Foor, CEO of Georgia Communications Cooperative, said teachers will need training in how best to use the technology across districts.

"A lot of teachers, they're aware it's there," he said. "But it's kind of like when electricity was introduced, and people had to figure out what to plug into walls and how it's used."

Foor said the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega also is connected to the network. It's hoped the private network can facilitate mentoring between college and high school students. It also can be used for video conferencing and data exchange.

The program is in place in eight schools across Georgia, including Lumpkin County High School, where Pete Seabolt works as an assistant superintendent. Seabolt served on the oversight committee to map out Education Exchange.

He said the private network has basically guaranteed Internet access at the school 100 percent of the time.

"It really gives us access to bandwidth that we couldn't get any other way," he said.

Belk said signing the contract for the rest of the schools Thursday was a symbolic move, as the network is already up and ready to use in all 30 counties. He said after three years of planning and strategizing, he's excited about what could come of the exchange.

"This was really a kind of challenge for me to kind of think outside the box," he said. "But we did it."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at or at 423-757-6731.