School districts wrestle with ways to provide equitable internet access to all students, a challenge magnified for districts with a 1:1 Chromebook or laptop initiative. Using data from local surveys and determining pockets of limited bandwidth, there are some common actions. Many districts extend school hours to keep labs open and wifi accessible, share a list of community resources with broadband access, or provide internet access at home through cellular modems (i.e. Kajeet, MiFi). None of these approaches provides the same level of broadband access enjoyed by other students.
In many areas, cable companies provide wifi hotspots to their customers at no extra charge, something school districts should leverage, particularly since the infrastructure and hardware is already in place. In the spirit of a community partnership, cable companies can provide wifi hotspot access to any student or teacher who has an email address with the school’s domain (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org). Access to website categories or devices not allowed by the district can be filtered through web based tools such as Go Guardian or Securly.
For district’s which use a cable company as one of their options for internet access, either directly or through a value added reseller or consortia, the teachers and students are the primary “customers” of the service. Recognizing this, many cable franchises offer a discounted rate to households with at least one child who qualifies for the National School Lunch Program, but the monthly charge may be prohibitive for such families. A school/corporate partnership providing access to existing wifi hotspots is a win/win proposition.
Chris Lehman, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy and co-author of Building School 2.0: How to Build the Schools We Need, advocates that technology must be like oxygen for learners, “ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” One way we can ensure all our students have the opportunity that 24/7 access enables is to provide equitable access to high speed broadband through strategic partnerships.
Below is a letter I drafted after speaking to a cable company vice president who seemed intrigued by the idea.
Sample letter to the cable company
Thank you for taking my call earlier this afternoon. Below are details for your review.
Comcast provides its customers in our region with wireless access to the Internet via wifi hotspots, available in many public places, at no additional cost. __________School District is a Comcast customer, and we are requesting the same level of service for the students we serve.
As a school district, we are the “face” of many subscribers–the students and teachers– and pay nearly $3,000/month to Comcast for Internet access. This is the equivalent of 75 consumer accounts at the advertised rate of $39.99/month.
Specifically, the __________ School District requests wireless access via Comcast wifi hotspots for our students when they are not on our campus (the point of demarcation), allowing them the same level of access to the Internet as other customers. In partnership with Comcast, we will provide each of our students with a username and log-in information so they may take advantage of the available resources.
Our vision of anytime/anywhere/any device access to learning resources is quickly becoming a reality; it’s essential that all our students benefit–each and every one–from the resources available in the community. As a community partner, Cablevision plays an important role in making this a reality.
I look forward to your response and a continued conversation.
Director of Technology and Innovation