NW-LINKS schools and libraries combine their purchasing power to procure dedicated telecommunications services at competitive pricing. Services are currently delivered through a contractual relationship with the Northwest Minnesota Special Access Network (NWMNSA), a cooperative of service providers who serve the northwest Minnesota area. Through this agreement, NW-LINKS members are served with a dedicated private, wide area network. This means that traffic between sites on the network, Region 1, and other NW-LINKS participants is not traveling the commercial Internet. This is important because data packets sent between schools and to Region 1 for submission to the state often contain data that is considered private and must be adequately secured. In addition, this allows certain data transactions to be given priority to ensure they transmit securely and efficiently when needed. Being on a connected network also guarantees low latency and high availability for all network traffic.

In reality, school districts and public libraries in NW-LINKS pay only a small fraction of the actual cost of their dedicated connectivity out of pocket. Through NW-LINKS, school districts and libraries receive substantial E-rate discounts on their line leases and Internet access (50-90 percent). For schools, the Telecommunications/Internet Access Equity Program has covered 45-50 percent of the remaining balance after E-rate for NW-LINKS school districts. Libraries also receive support for the balance of their after E-rate share through the state Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) program.

A school district or library dollar buys a great deal more in telecommunications access and service through NW-LINKS than it does on the commercial Internet market. This is demonstrated by the additional services, support, collaborative opportunities, and funding that are made available to NW-LINKS consortium members. In addition, the cooperative structure of NW-LINKS provides reasonable, equitable pricing for DEDICATED connectivity to all members that is affordable for all regardless of student enrollment, size, or geographic location. 



NW-LINKS members receive 24 X 7 technical support, 365 days per year. Network problems are reported to 702 Communications using a trouble ticketing system so that any network outages can be quickly resolved. While major network outages are rare, 702 Communications also coordinates network repair with all of the other partner service providers in the NWMNSA to ensure efficient resolution of any network difficulties. The contract with NWMNSA also provides an escalation process to make sure NW-LINKS customers receive sufficient attention and provisions for credit in the event of any significant outage.

NW-LINKS members also have the support of an additional entity that provides network coordination services – Region I. The coordination services provided consist of procurement and ordering services for the network, monitoring trouble tickets with the providers, filing for federal E-rate discounts and state Telecommunications Internet Access Equity Aid, and managing the operation of NW-LINKS as a nonprofit consortium. The network coordination service also includes working with school district and library technology coordinators to troubleshoot problems, plan for bandwidth increases, and ensure local needs are being met.

NW-LINKS strives to provide trouble-free network operation. No customer premise equipment is purchased by NW-LINKS members. This means that routers and codecs used for data and video transmission are leased as part of the services provided by NWMNSA. In the event of an equipment failure, the equipment is simply replaced or swapped with a working unit until it can be repaired. All maintenance on the equipment is also part of the services purchased from the NWMNSA contract. Equipment is automatically upgraded when it nears the end of life cycle or when bandwidth usage increases necessitate a change.

Bandwidth usage is visible to members through a web-based graphing system. Any school district or library on the NW-LINKS network is able to access the bandwidth use statistics and monitor use.

NW-LINKS members are also provided with Red Condor, an anti-spam product that filters e-mail for spam, phishing, and other inappropriate e-mail activity.



NW-LINKS makes up a large percentage of the business customer base for the NWMNSA service provider group. As such, our schools and public libraries serve as anchor business tenants in many of the communities in which they are located. This means that the large cooperative purchase of services by NW-LINKS schools and libraries is core business to the service providers, therefore, the providers go the extra mile to ensure our schools and libraries are satisfied with the services and any problems we have are resolved quickly. Together we are stronger and have more leverage with the service providers as a cooperative than any single school or library entity does on their own.



 Members of NW-LINKS have their E-rate application completed for them by the NW-LINKS coordinator for Internet access and telecommunications services provided through the NW-LINKS consortium. E-rate can be a frustrating and time consuming process for the inexperienced. By having a consortium E-rate application, NW-LINKS saves districts and libraries considerable time and effort since all the bidding, procurement and application is handled centrally. Without a NW-LINKS membership a school district or public library is on their own for E-rate application or must contract with a consultant. In addition to filing for E-rate on the NW-LINKS provided Internet services.



As with the federal e-rate program, Telecommunications/Internet Access Equity Aid application is completed for school district members by NW-LINKS. It is also important to note that only school districts who are members of telecommunications access regions are eligible for up to 100% reimbursement of Internet access costs after E-rate. Districts who procure Internet access outside of a cooperative arrangement such as NW-LINKS are eligible for reimbursement of only those costs that exceed $15 per pupil.