Broadband Equity

Districts Find Different Ways to Serve Students Lacking Home Internet

Two districts recently issued devices to students who lacked internet access at home. San Antonio Independent School District in Texas and Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia tackled the problem of digital access in different ways.

San Antonio ISD worked with the 1Million Project Foundation and Sprint to obtain wireless devices and high-speed wireless data access at no cost for 5,200 high school students--some 40 percent of the entire high school population. Each student received either a free hotspot device or a smartphone and 10GB of LTE-caliber data per month (after that it clocks back) for up to four years during their high school career. The devices include software to block adult content and malware.

The timing is appropriate. By next summer, the school system will have finished implementation of a fiber network reaching all schools and offices as part of a major digital transformation. That work is being funded through a $7 million grant and additional state money.

Districts Find Different Ways to Serve Students Lacking Home InternetDistricts Find Different Ways to Serve Students Lacking Home Internet

More than 5,200 San Antonio ISD high schoolers received devices that provide home access to the internet. Source: San Antonio Independent School District

In Virginia, upon learning that about a thousand of its students in middle and high school lacked internet access at home, the IT department at Albemarle set to work to come up with a way to provide online access to them.

According to local reporting, a first thought was to build a dedicated internet to serve those students. "We found there were just some challenges implementing that project. Primarily, it required towers on our school properties, and there was some resistance to that," Christine Diggs, chief of technology, told a reporter.

Eventually, the district chose to deploy Kajeet devices that act as a home hotspot that students and family members can connect to.

Now the harder work begins: reaching out to persuade families to self-identify as needing the device. "There’s no way for us to know who doesn’t have internet unless they tell us they don’t have internet," explained Bert Jacoby, coordinator of digital equity for the district.

The 1Million Project is currently accepting applications from districts interested in participating in the 2020-2021 program.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.