IT Infrastructure

Calif. Community Builds Homegrown Internet Network for Schools

By Leo Doran — October 25, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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


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.
School Climate & Safety Webinar
Praise for Improvement: Supporting Student Behavior through Positive Feedback and Interventions
Discover how PBIS teams and educators use evidence-based practices for student success.
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.
IT Management Webinar
Build a Digitally Responsive Educational Organization for Effective Digital-Age Learning
Chart a guided pathway to digital agility and build support for your organization’s mission and vision through dialogue and collaboration.
Content provided by Bluum
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.
Data Webinar
Drive Instruction With Mastery-Based Assessment
Deliver the right data at the right time—in the right format—and empower better decisions.
Content provided by Instructure

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

IT Infrastructure Internet on School Buses: FCC Eyes E-Rate Change to Expand Access
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal that would allow the use of federal E-rate funding for Wi-Fi in school buses.
2 min read
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year in the Texas school system.
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a WI-FI hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning on the first day of class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in the parking lot of the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. The bus is one of 20 hotspots throughout the city to help students have access to their online classes as part of the remote start to the school year due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP
IT Infrastructure Stopping Cyberattacks Is Top Priority for Ed-Tech Leaders. But Many Underestimate the Risk
Most K-12 district tech leaders rate common cybersecurity threats as just low or medium risk, survey shows.
4 min read
Images shows a symbolic lock on a technical background.
IT Infrastructure Spotlight Spotlight on Infrastructure Modernization
This Spotlight will help you grasp the reality of school infrastructure, parent privacy concerns, watchdog recommendations and more.
IT Infrastructure The Infrastructure Bill Includes Billions for Broadband. What It Would Mean for Students
Students who struggle to access the internet at home may get some relief through $65 billion in funding for broadband, approved by Congress in the new infrastructure bill.
2 min read
Chromebooks, to be loaned to students in the Elk Grove Unified School District, await distribution at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., on April 2, 2020.
Even as school-issued devices such as Chromebooks, shown above, have proliferated in the pandemic, many students still lack internet access at home, putting them at a disadvantage for completing homework assignments.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP