By Tim Gardner
Last week, additional school buses began bringing Internet access to communities without it to help more North Carolina students connect to school online. Avery County is one of 29 counties statewide using the new Internet service.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced the plan to equip more school buses with hotspots following the announcement that K-12 public schools would continue remote learning through the end of this school year.
The Wi-Fi hotspot devices are provided to help underserved communities acquire internet access for homework, health care, unemployment filing and related needs.
Additional school buses will be bringing internet access to communities without it to help more North Carolina students connect to school online.
“In many communities, school buses are already delivering meals to students and their families. Now they’re delivering Wi-Fi for online learning,” Governor Cooper said.
As many as 280 more school buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi thanks to donations from AT&T, Google and the Duke Energy Foundation. AT&T and Google are providing up to 100 Wi-Fi hot spots each and the Duke Energy Foundation is providing up to 80.
The first 156 devices have or will be expected to be delivered to communities in 29 counties across the state.
“The Avery County Public School System is very fortunate to have access to WIFI hot spots for Remote Learning Internet Service,” Avery School Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman stated. “Our Board of Education, principals, teachers and other staff members are deeply appreciative of all those who have or are providing this Internet service for our school buses. It will surely help close the gap to our students who don’t have access to Internet service at their homes and allow them to work on class assignments enroute to school and back to their homes. We’re excited about this Internet service and the additional learning avenues it provides for our students.”
According to Dennis Brown, Director of Human Resources for Avery County Schools, the county did not get any additional buses installed with the Wi-Fi devices. Instead, Avery received four Internet connection devices to be installed on as many buses. Brown said the devices have yet to be installed and it will have to be determined what locations in the county the Internet apparatuses can connect with service as mountain areas such as are in Avery County deflects some Internet services. Brown noted that the Wi-Fi service will likely be in central parts of various communities in the county and most likely when a bus is parked.
Brown also said that there will be no actual person designated as an operator for the Wi-Fi units as they will be pre-filtered and compliant with federal regulations and any student using them will only have to connect online much like they would on all other Wi-Fi set-ups.
Local school officials will determine the exact locations and schedules for school bus Wi-Fi hotspots in their communities. Additional information, including links for locations, will be inserted on NCDIT’s webpage when available at www.ncbroadband.gov/covid19. The webpage also includes a map of other public Wi-Fi drive-up locations, as well as a listing of free or low-cost options for internet service during the pandemic. This list is updated as new offers and locations are added.
Some counties are already using school buses to provide internet access.