Infrastructure

Calif. Community Builds Homegrown Internet Network for Schools

By Leo Doran — October 25, 2016 2 min read

Cary Clarke, a special education teacher in rural Kings County, Calif., has received family internet service for the past four years through a program instituted by her local county office of education. She said it is “the best internet we’ve ever had” and it allows her 7th grade daughter, Megan, to do schoolwork, research, and collaborative projects from home on a school-issued Chromebook.

Stories about rural areas securing internet connections for the first time have abounded in recent years, in part thanks to federal programs such as E-rate, as well as industry forces that have led to declining costs and improved service.

At a Glance

Kings County Calif. Office of Education

Enrollment: 27,000 students

Schools Districts Served: 13

Education Buildings: 54

Median Household Income: $47,341*

*U.S. Census

But what makes Clarke’s story different is that her family receives at-home internet from the county office of education rather than a commercial carrier. Furthermore, rather than receive the broadband connections from fiber wires stretching to their home, their connection is delivered by towers built on schoolhouse roofs that send signals across the airwaves.

Jerry Waymire, the assistant superintendent for information systems in the Kings County office of education, started working on the cost-effective solution to the lack of high-quality internet access in most of his county in 2011. He did so by leveraging an arcane federal resource, a band of spectrum called the Educational Broadband Service.

The technology, which is fundamentally the same as the 4G LTE networks used by commercial carriers, works much like a series of giant, countywide Wi-Fi routers. The key difference is that it takes Federal Communications Commission permission to send so much information so far over the airwaves. Some additional hardware, such as small antennas, also need to be bought and installed in some students’ homes to ensure clear signals.

‘Very Grateful’

Albemarle County in Virginia has similar network-building efforts underway, and Northern Michigan University has asuccessful—and growing—EBS-powered network already in place. Many school districts, however, no longer have access to the spectrum because they’ve leased it away to commercial telecoms. In most cases, school systems never had any EBS spectrum to begin with because they never applied for a share when the FCC was giving it away for free.

Since the FCC stopped issuing new EBS licenses after a 1995 round of applications, many districts still can’t acquire the estimated billions worth of spectrum still residing with the agency to address their technology needs.

Back in rural San Joaquin Valley, Megan Clarke can access instructional videos and update shared files on Google docs from her home—something that would have been unthinkable before the county stepped in with an option for affordable broadband. Clarke’s immediate area is not served by high-speed fiber lines, and without the county’s solution, Cary Clarke believes her children’s schoolwork would be difficult to complete.

“We’ve been through the gamut,” she said. “We are very grateful.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2016 edition of Education Week as Homegrown Network Serves Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Infrastructure Remote and Hybrid Learning Are Declining. But the 'Homework Gap' Will Still Be a Problem
Schools are returning to in-person instruction, but students' connections to the internet at home remain spotty.
2 min read
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advance placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays a wifi hot spot that are being handed out to students in Dallas on April 9, 2020. Dallas I.S.D. is handing out the devices along with wifi hotspots to students in need so that they can connect online for their continued education amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an Advanced Placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School in Dallas, displays one of the Wi-Fi hotspots that were given to district students during the pandemic.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Infrastructure 'Big Burden' for Schools Trying to Give Kids Internet Access
A year into the pandemic, millions of students remain without internet because of financial hurdles and logistical difficulties.
5 min read
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
Shafkat Anowar/AP
Infrastructure Q&A How to Expand Home Internet Connectivity for K-12 Students Over the Long Haul
One Florida district is mapping its region and prioritizing communities with the greatest economic needs for home internet access.
6 min read
This "heat map" generated by GIS technology uses progressively darker colors to illustrate the areas of Palm Beach County with the highest concentrations of families who lack home internet access.
This "heat map" generated by GIS technology uses progressively darker colors to illustrate the areas of Palm Beach County with the highest concentrations of families who lack home internet access.
Courtesy of Donna Goldstein
Infrastructure The Big Pandemic Tech Challenge: Reliable, High-Quality Internet Experiences for All
Simply providing a student with a device and internet connection at home isn’t enough to ensure high-quality online learning.
12 min read
A team of people build a path across the digital divide.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty