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All That for a Football Game?

What if schools got the same attention that professional sports receive?

A bumper sticker I often saw in the 1960s proclaimed, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” I always thought the sentiment was naive and unrealistic. Yet recently I found myself asking perhaps an equally naive question: What if schools got the same attention that professional sports receive?

What prompted my query was an article in the Miami Herald the week before the Super Bowl. It described the lengths to which technology vendors were going to ensure that all their constituents at the game were taken care of and all the technology systems worked smoothly. There was one company that was tracking Very Important People. Each driver assigned to a VIP (VIPs apparently can’t drive themselves) was given a small box to wear on his belt that basically acted as a GPS device, allowing the company’s security team to know the whereabouts of each of its drivers and get instant alerts when one would leave or enter a location.

In the media room at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, where the Super Bowl was played, there were six computer stations equipped with video cameras for reporters to file video or audio clips, more than 90 Ethernet connections, six tech-support specialists, and a supply of loaner laptops for emergencies.

What most amazed me were the preparations made by the cell phone companies, which brought in extra equipment to increase service capacity to keep up with the volume of data and voice calls. The demand is especially high at halftime, when fans send messages to all their friends, proving that they are indeed at the Super Bowl. The article notes that beefing up capacity is a normal thing wireless providers do for sporting events, boat shows, and other vital cultural events. They also “bring out extra cell sites on wheels, also called COWs, to the parking lot.”

The article goes on to note that the call volumes of Sprint and Nextel increased 275 percent and 325 percent, respectively, at the last Super Bowl played in Miami, in 2007, leading Sprint Nextel to invest $2.3 million in this year’s game. The company added four COWs, AT&T added three, and Verizon added a permanent $1 million system at the stadium with two base stations and extra antenna arrays.

“Cool!” thought the gadget-honk side of me, but my enthusiasm was dimmed when I considered what impact this kind of commitment from telecommunications companies could have on education. Imagine you are a school district, population 100,000, including students, faculty, and parents, and you implement a 1-to-1 program. Now imagine if the telecom providers said: “You school district customers are so important to us that we are going to bring in a couple of COWs to make sure you have sufficient capacity to provide unlimited streaming video to students in all your classrooms. And, because we know how important it is to link home and school, we are going to install a system that allows ubiquitous connection between home and school and ensures students are connected no matter where they live.”

Yeah, that will happen...about the same time the Pentagon has a bake sale.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).