If you’ve ever been fascinated by a documentary about the great triumphs and tragedies within your own state or watched your child beam with excitement at a cartoon you once watched, too, you know there’s a level of familial camaraderie that local public television programming brings to our daily lives. There’s something nostalgic and powerful about the stories, education and community that public broadcasting generates.
For the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), facilitating these experiences through free public broadcasting is the number one priority. As vice president of technology, Mark Norman is passionate about providing consistent service to all 77 counties.
“We hear from parents all the time about how much they appreciate our programming,” Norman said. “Dependability and quality of service are essential for us.”
As Oklahoma’s only public television system, OETA aims to connect all Oklahomans to meaningful programs, and it does just that. With over 1.8 million viewers weekly, OETA consistently ranks in the top five public television networks nationally.
Norman believes that OETA is a tool that allows all Oklahomans, even in the most rural communities, to engage in the significant cultural events that happen in our state. While a lot of work is put into generating that content to share with the entire state, the method for sharing that material is just as vital.
For years, OETA leased national satellite time to disseminate their signal to all of Oklahoma. While the satellite was a simple solution, it was extraordinarily expensive and broadcasting quality was dependent upon many factors. As an example, Norman notes that rain in Oklahoma City could cause a signal loss in half of the state.
The satellite company recently required that all broadcasting agencies begin compressing their signals, resulting in a lower level of signal quality than OETA currently broadcasts. That change, along with the high costs, caused Norman and other leaders at OETA to consider other options.
OETA contacted OneNet about services, and together they developed a plan that would allow OETA to continue reaching all 77 counties in Oklahoma at a fraction of their current rates. OneNet proposed that OETA switch to a statewide fiber network that would continue OETA’s current level of service around the state, while engaging local telecommunication companies. The solution would allow OETA to use current OneNet fiber as a middle-mile network, and utilize local telecommunication companies to bring the ‘last-mile’ of fiber to specific towers around the state.
As an extension of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, OneNet’s team was eager to develop a working connectivity solution for OETA because of the educational value the organization adds to Oklahoma.
“OETA’s commitment to using technology to provide quality educational programming to all areas of Oklahoma makes them an invaluable asset to our state,” said Dr. Glen D. Johnson, higher education chancellor and chairman of the board for OETA. “Technological partnerships of this nature serve to make educational opportunities more available to all citizens. The State Regents continually seek opportunities to create efficiencies and generate cost-savings for those we serve. This collaboration exemplifies that commitment.”
This new partnership generates substantial cost savings for OETA and extends its mission of enriching the lives of all Oklahomans. By utilizing OneNet and local telecommunications companies, OETA deploys its financial resources within the state instead of paying a national company.
With OETA’s upgraded network, Executive Director Dan Schiedel looks forward to the future of the organization and the potential benefits of this partnership.
“We are constantly challenged by the evolution of technology, and when innovation is tied to game-changing solutions, we see collaborations that result in beneficial results for all involved,” said Schiedel. “This partnership leverages resources between two state agencies that were challenged to come up with an innovative cost-saving system that serves all Oklahomans. If it were not for the OneNet team working with our engineers and third-party providers, this project would not have been possible, and we would still be struggling to determine how to get our signal and service around the state.”
Another benefit of this new system is that Norman and others at OETA can now troubleshoot with greater accuracy, pinpointing specific causes of signal issues. The new system allows OETA technicians to see where the issue stems from, whether fiber has been cut, if a tower is not receiving the signal or any other issue.
“Before, if we saw a signal was out, we would load up in a truck and actually drive to the location to see what the issue was,” said Norman. “Now we know exactly what the problem is, and if we do need to drive to a specific tower, we know exactly what is wrong and what tools to bring.”
Norman indicates that another consideration when making the switch was the level of expertise OneNet’s engineers brought to the table. In addition to the annual cost savings for OETA, OneNet was able to finish the project three months early – which allowed OETA to end their satellite lease before it expired, generating immediate savings.
Those cost savings are allowing OETA to focus on other aspects of the organization to best serve the state. Norman believes the innovative, streamlined system will allow everyone at OETA to continue focusing on delivering the best content and materials while looking to the future for new possibilities.
“What we’re doing is pretty unique,” he said. “Our partnership with OneNet provides the engineering expertise, technical support and economic flexibility required for OETA to serve all Oklahomans effectively.”
Story by Alexandra Franklin, Strategic Planning and Communications Intern