District Administration August 2017 - 42

DISTRICT CIO

TECHNOLOGY FROM THE CIO PERSPECTIVE

Do-it-yourself broadband connects rural students for free
By Alison DeNisco

F

ree internet access at home will
soon be a reality for students
in Albemarle County Public
Schools. The district of 14,000 students
spread across 726 square miles in central
Virginia tapped a little-known public
resource to fund a countywide broadband
network, paving the way for others to do
the same in an effort to ensure students
have equal access to online learning.
Half of Albemarle's students live in
"drastically rural" areas where commercial internet providers don't offer services, says district CIO Vince Scheivert.
Between 20 and 30 percent of students
lack broadband, he says.
Scheivert's team is building the network with backing from the Educational Broadband Service, a public resource
created (under a different name) in the
1960s to broadcast educational TV
programs in schools.
Most districts did not use the service, and leased it out to large carriers.
But some districts, including Albemarle, kept their access. And in 2004, when
the FCC allowed the service to be used
for internet, the district took advantage.
Five million American households
with school-age children lack highspeed internet needed for completing
school assignments, according to the
Pew Research Center. And that limits
students' ability to apply to college,
find jobs, and "become engaged digital
citizens," says Richard Culatta, CEO
of ISTE. Arkansas is among just a few
states that implemented high-speed
internet to every school. The project
involved more than 20 telecommunications companies, according to
newsite ArkansasOnline.com.
"We don't decide who gets educational resources in schools based upon
their address," Scheivert says. "We are
progressively moving toward a more
digitally based curriculum and work42 August 2017

GREEN IS GOOD-In this
propagation map of Albemarle
County, colors show signal quality
for broadband. Green is nearly
unobstructed.

force. We want to make sure we have
the capacity to provide students with
the access, the resources and the materials they need in order to be successful not only now, but for their entire
educational career."
Steps to building
Albemarle partnered with a technology
manufacturer to build the network.
Each of the district's 26 schools will be
equipped with tools to spread broadband to homes in a 2.5-mile radius. To
fill the gaps, local police, fire and EMS
departments will allow the district to
provide broadband from their communication towers. This spared Albemarle
from having to build new towers at
$100,000 apiece, which other districts
may have to do to develop a far-reaching network.
In 2017-18, Albemarle will distribute home routers and connection units
to an initial 1,000 households out of
the 6,500 in the district. Scheivert aims
to complete the project, which began in
2013, between 2019 and 2020.
The do-it-yourself network comes at
no cost to families or taxpayers because
the district used existing funding
and staffing. The project will cost the

district about $800,000 total-less than
it previously cost to put Wi-Fi in every
school, Scheivert says.
Replicating Albemarle's initiative
is "highly feasible" for other districts
that can access Educational Broadband
Service, Scheivert says. He recommends
investing in a small base station to test
it out, and seeing what local resources
may be available.
"We've been talking about the digital
divide for a really long time," Scheivert
says. "If we have internet capacity at
Mount Everest to broadcast a selfie, a
kid should be able to have it in their
house to do their homework."
Creative solutions
In June, President Donald Trump
proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure
initiative to enhance broadband access
for rural America.
Meanwhile, a handful of districts
and programs have devised creative
solutions to close the digital divide.
In California's Coachella Valley
USD in 2014, former superintendent
Darryl Adams placed routers on buses
and stationed more throughout the
district after school to provide students
with home internet access. The Wi-Fi
on Wheels program was part of a $41
million bond measure that also funded
iPads for the district's 18,000 students.
Before Wi-Fi on Wheels between
30 to 40 percent of students in the
1,250-square-mile district did not have
internet access at home, Adams says.
"Students needed a way to connect,
and to eliminate the homework gap,"
Adams says. "If your students don't
have devices and connectivity, they will
be left behind."
Alison DeNisco is a freelance writer in
Kentucky.
District Administration


http://www.ArkansasOnline.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration August 2017

District Administration August 2017 - Cover1
District Administration August 2017 - Cover2
District Administration August 2017 - 1
District Administration August 2017 - 2
District Administration August 2017 - 3
District Administration August 2017 - 4
District Administration August 2017 - 5
District Administration August 2017 - 6
District Administration August 2017 - 7
District Administration August 2017 - 8
District Administration August 2017 - 9
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