As more schools move equip all students with a computer, one cost is often overlooked - getting those computers connected to the network grid.
The L.A. Unified school district is planning to spend over $500 million to upgrade servers, pull wire and connect antiquated schools to a data grid - a necessary part of its huge effort to supply 700,000 students and teachers with an iPad.
The price tag is high, says Joe Monaley, a network engineer at Caltech, because costs start far from the building, out on the street.
“A lot of the pipes going through the city or between cities, those have been built, those have been built,” Monaley says. “The problem is, how do you get from the middle of the street to house, and how do you do that for everybody in city and or everybody in the county?”
It’s not as simple as plugging in a modem and router for a home connection: it's a challenge just to get high-capacity classrooms wired, much less connect whole schools directly to the grid.
L.A. Unified will have to pay to lay cable at the street level or lease it from a utility such as AT&T or the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which like many utilities ended up with loads of extra cable after the dot-com bust.
Putting L.A. Unified online is like putting a whole city online. There are more students in the school district than there are people in Seattle or Boston.
The federal government is shelling out a $2.22 billion through its E-Rate program so schools can get more students online.
Often, the districts will pair the federal funds with local issued bond money to pay for the upgrades.
Rosemary Sea, a student at Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South L.A. said as long as the Internet remains spotty, teachers are reluctant to plan iPad lessons.
Last time, she was in the middle of crafting a slideshow for her chemistry teacher when the Wi-Fi dropped out.
“The images wouldn’t come up, but he gave me an extension until my Internet was working,” Sea says.
"The Wi-Fi seems to be shutting down from time to time,” says Robert Sandoval, a freshman at the school. “Since we are all signed into LAUSD [network], they all shut off.”
125,000 iPads are scheduled to arrive at schools as the district continues its push to supply all 680,000 students and teachers with a device.
So construction for wireless upgrades also needs to ramp-up. The district has 486 of its approximately 800 campuses scheduled for modernizations before the end of 2014 with an average sticker price of $736,000.
The history of the debt ceiling is a little bit like a piece of classical music. It starts out softly. Kind of like one of Richard Wagner’s operas.
Congress used to approve borrowing – project by project.
“Wars or projects like canal building and expansion of the navy, etcetera," says Fred Beuttler, a congressional historian at Carroll University.
He says eventually that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome. So the modern debt ceiling was born in the 1930s.
And then the tempo of our debt ceiling ditty changes. Debt limit votes become a verdict on overall federal spending.
“It’s really like a stick that Congress uses to beat up on the executive with," says Joseph Thorndike, a historian with Tax Analysts. "And who doesn’t like to have a stick?”
The debt ceiling debate first crescendoed in the 1940s and 50s. As Congress faced off with presidents Roosevelt, and Eisenhower. There were debt ceiling fights in the 90s. But the most serious threat of actual default came in 2011.
That’s where Mark Patterson enters the picture. He was Treasury chief of staff from 2009 until just last May. He blames the crescendo of debt ceiling rhetoric on the polarization of the country as a whole. He can’t even remember how many debt ceiling cliff hangers there were while he was at Treasury.
He says, “They are something of a blur to me at this point but we had about a half a dozen of them during the time that I was there.”
I want to jog Patterson’s memory. So I persuade him to brave the cold and take a brisk walk to the Treasury building. Patterson remembers 16 hour days. And lots of takeout food.
“By the time it gets there it’s always cold though, because the secret Service guards our building," he says.
I ask Patterson where we are now in our musical debt ceiling journey. Patterson says we’re in an interlude. He hopes we won’t get so close to defaulting again. Whatever happens, he says, we’ll survive. He remembers thinking that on the darkest days of previous debt debates. As he left the Treasury building late at night.
“We’ve gotten through worse than this and hopefully these debt limit crises will subside into history, too, he says. "At least that’s what I’d try to tell myself at night as I got in the car to drive home.”
Then, for further inspiration, Patterson would crank up his favorite debt ceiling musician. Not Wagner - Jimi Hendrix.
Some of the newer high-valued companies in Silicon Valley these days are more focused on sharing with your business partners than sharing with your friends. Example: Box helps people and businesses share documents and other data on the cloud. And the young company privately filed for an IPO a few days ago. Eric Schurenberg, editor in chief of Inc Magazine, joined us to help explain.
Click play on the audio player above for the interview.
The game didn't go as predicted, but the ad war did. For the second year in a row, Bud won over viewers, using a cute puppy and photogenic Clydesdales to sell beer.
Today Facebook releases a new mobile application called Paper. It doesn't really look a lot like Mark Zuckerberg's crowded, blue social network. But, it is part of his empire, and it might help the company keep building engagement by not looking like ... Facebook.
Slate Tech blogger Will Oremus has been reporting on the app and joined us to tell us more.
"This is a really slick-looking app that Facebook just introduced today," says Oremus, "It's a new way to read Facebook, combined with a sort of news reader."
Paper should help filter out much of the distractions found on the main Facebook service: "It's trying to appeal to the people who want less of the random updates about their friends cats and babies, and maybe more of what their friends are talking about that's in the news or what's happening today that's in their area of interest," Oremus says.
With Paper, Facebook is showing that it recognizes that a portion of its userbase is becoming tired of its flagship social network, and the new app is just the latest alternative the company is offering to the original service.
"They've already got Instagram, and they've kept that as a separate entity," says Oremus, "They've built Facebook Messenger, and now they've got Paper, and Mark Zuckerberg on an earnings call that there will be more in store in the years to come."
And speaking of earnings, Facebook has been exceeding expectations recently, thanks to their ability to draw in advertisers and to get users to click those ads. The obvious implication for Paper is its potential as yet another advertising platform.