We've covered an array of communities that have met the connectivity challenges brought about by the pandemic by setting up gap networks to help bring neighborhoods, students, seniors, and frontline workers online in places like Arizona, California, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. A recent NBC story highlights efforts in Dallas, Texas and Utah to do the same, suggesting that we'll see more of these networks stood up in the near future.
Tag: "school district"
HiLight — Hillsboro, Oregon’s (pop. 105,000) citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network — has officially launched and begun connecting its first subscribers. After five years of consideration and planning, it’s an exciting moment, with hundreds of homes and businesses brought online over the last few months. Over the next seven years, at least $28 million will be put towards the rollout, bringing the municipal network to tens of thousands of locations across the city.
Hillsboro sits just outside of Portland, and has been looking for better connectivity options for years. A large proportion of its population is comprised of tech workers and residents with advanced degrees; the city, in fact, anchors the state’s Silicon Forest, so named for the group of technology firms employing tens of thousands of workers across three Intel campuses as well as operations by Oracle, Salesforce, Epson, and Synopsis. A citywide fiber network serves to provide competition and capacity to keep them in the area:
Hillsboro is the tallest tree in the Silicon Forest and the center of Oregon’s high-tech cluster. With an affordable high-speed network, Hillsboro’s homegrown talent — our students and entrepreneurs — will be better positioned to lead the world in innovating for the future. Hillsboro will continue to attract and retain talent and be a hub for innovation.
But Hillsboro also faces a stark digital divide fueled by economic inequality, and bridging it has been one of the city council’s (and now the network’s) main agenda items. This has driven the project’s second focus: bringing affordable, high-quality access to economically vulnerable residents stuck with no quality options today. It’s why the city has introduced one of the fastest low-cost access program we’ve seen established by any broadband network in the United States, with qualifying families getting access to symmetrical gigabit service for $10/month.
Putting Glass in the Ground
We’ve been following Hillsboro’s journey over the past few years. In 2014, the city council began studying...Read more
We've written a good deal about gap networks over the last year, in the form of neighborhood-based projects by local officials in partnerships with nonprofits as well as school district initiatives to get students connected as distance learning continues.
The Murray School district, located a handful of miles south of Salt Lake City, has undergone a hurculean effort of its own to stand up a 44-tower wireless network using the 3.5-3.7 GHz spectrum to cover all 6,000 students in the district (13% of whom had no home connection previously. The network, free to students, went online in early January. Read more about how it unfolded here.
States have gotten creative over the last half year in making use of CARES Act funding to improve connectivity for families and students, but one project in Mississippi shows that oftentimes a good old Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) build is best. The West Jasper School District (enrollment 1,700), sixty miles southeast of Jackson, partnered with telephone and network operator TEC to do just that with a project aimed at bringing Internet access to 125 families that do not have it in the area.
Reaching the Unconnected
The effort is funded by $390,000 in CARES funding via the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act managed by the Mississippi Department of Education. The initiative was established by HB 1788, which aimed at “providing payments to eligible Mississippi public school districts, independent schools and Native American tribal school districts . . . as equitably and efficiently as possible after determining the unserved areas of the state . . . to increase or gain broadband access.” It passed both chambers unanimously in July, allocating $50 million for the effort.
Ten miles of new fiber were installed along County Road 12 to bring 135 previous unconnected homes online to TEC’s (a regional telephone and broadband company which offers services in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) network at the end of November. Current users connected to its fiber infrastructure can choose between symmetrical 250 Mbps, 500 Mbps, and gigabit tiers for $55/month, $65/month, and $80/month respectively.
School District Superintendent Warren Woodrow said of the project:
We felt like the best use of it would be to put fiber in the ground and to serve our students and our community.
Seattle, Washington sits at the technology epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, and its residents have historically enjoyed better wireline Internet access options than many Americans across the country. A new report, Seattle Internet for All [pdf], provides a wealth of analysis which identifies those remaining in the city who struggle to get online. And while it outlines a detailed set of steps the city can do to reach the 5% or so of residents who report not having any subscription, most of them remain small, with no bold strategies offered to solve the connectivity gap once and for all.
The report comes as a result of the Internet for All Resolution passed by the city council in July in order to address digital divide amplified by the ongoing pandemic. While the city has been successful in increasing Internet access over the last five years, there are important income- and race-based gaps that still need to be fixed. Currently, the report says, 17,575 households with 37,365 residents sit on the other side of the adoption gap, and it concludes that the majority of the disparity is driven by affordability and a lack of digital skills.
Summary of Findings
The report argues that Seattle remains one of the most connected cities in the country, with 93% of the city having access to gigabit broadband from one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs); according to the FCC Form 477 data (which itself overstates competition) that number sits at 75%, but in either case it's worth noting that for Comcast and Wave subscribers this will be asymmetric gigabit with far slower upload speeds.
The report finds that 88% of households currently pay for wireline subscriptions, while 4-7% use cellular or free options to get online. But 5% report not having any Internet access at all, and these residents are concentrated around particular areas: South Central Seattle (Pioneer Square, Yesler Terrace, and International District), South Seattle (New Holly, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill), West Seattle (High Point...Read more
State officials in Tennessee have allocated an additional $3 million from CARES Act funding to the project to go towards the 10-year maintenance endowment to keep 28,000 students connected, as well as provide devices for students in need.
Over the last few months, a number of cities across the country have recognized the pressing need to find a way to get those in their community without Internet access connected. In San Rafael, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Champaign, Illinois, local governments along with a variety of philanthropic, technical, and private partners have developed a host of innovative ways to bring fixed wireless solutions to neighborhoods in need.
The city of McAllen (pop. 140,000) — near the mouth of the Rio Grande, at the southern tip of Texas — offers some additional lessons to be learned and a blueprint for success for other local governments thinking of doing the same. Quietly over the summer, it collected broadband data, designed, and deployed a fixed wireless network which to date covers more than three dozen neighborhoods and provides free connectivity for the city’s students and residents.
Fiber From the Water Tower
Citywide Wi-Fi has been a long time coming in McAllen. Mayor Jim Dalson and the IT Department have wanted to do it for years, IT Director Robert Acosta said in an interview, but finding a way to pay for it has been the major barrier. In the meantime, his department has been adding wireless coverage to public spaces for the past half decade, at city parks, outside of government facilities, at the Museum of Art and Science, and at the Boys and Girls club. He also extended the network to traffic cameras, water towers, and other government facilities, and when the pandemic hit his department had more than 60 miles of fiber to call upon.
The current effort started in the middle of June, when the city commission and mayor allocated $2.9 million from county-distributed CARES money to the IT Department in order to get students connected for the upcoming school year (see map, right)....Read more
When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.
Fiber Just a Few Feet Away
The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project.
Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...Read more
Across the country, schools have shifted to distance learning after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread school closures and stay-at-home orders. But many students still can’t get online to learn. A recent survey of Los Angeles Schools found that 16 percent of students don’t have access to broadband and that 15 percent had not yet spoken with teachers.
To connect students on the wrong side of the digital divide, school districts in a number of cities, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, are working with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families in need of home broadband connections during the crisis.
In a press release, Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, said of the program:
As we transition from a traditional brick and mortar school experience to one that takes place online, it is more important than ever that we make every effort to remain connected to our students who rely on us for not only academics, but also essential needs and social and emotional supports. . . This partnership will allow us to stay connected to our students who need us most.
Schools Sponsor Student Service
To help ensure all students can access online education while schools are closed, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to pay the monthly cost of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for eligible households. The school systems will distribute promotional codes to families who can then contact the company to sign up for broadband access at no cost.
Internet Essentials is Comcast’s affordable broadband plan for low-income households that qualify for a variety of public assistance programs. The program currently offers speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In response to the...Read more
This is episode number six of the special podcast project we're working on with NC Broadband Matters to share North Carolina news, challenges, and innovations about broadband in their state.
Christopher went on a trip in February to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. The event addressed a wide range of topics, including digital equity, legislative efforts, and the homework gap, which is the focus of this week's conversation with Dr. LaTricia Townsend and Amy Huffman. Dr. Townsend and Christopher discuss her work and the research at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, especially their findings related to the homework gap. Amy, who is the Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager at the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, describes more state specific data and some of the efforts happening at the local and state level.
We learn more about how, as schools embrace technology to ready students for adulthood, they must also grapple with the problem of ensuring those students have the technological tools they need to make use of that innovation. Dr. Townsend describes some of the challenges that local schools face in both urban and rural regions and the creative methods they're using to overcome those challenges. Amy explains some of the reasons North Carolina's children can only move forward on bringing technology into their schoolwork and presents state-level policy recommendations aimed...Read more