Student Connectivity -- There is no one-size-fits all approach!

Reliable broadband connectivity like utilities needs to be a requirement and service that is available to each and every student in today’s world. Addressing the value of quality, broadband connectivity access to any student, educator, or administrator is a perfect example of preaching to the choir. Though the pandemic has made it one of the most important and urgent problems to solve, this has been a necessity and fundamental requirement for a decent educational experience for Pre-K to graduate students.  
 
This is not a problem to be solved with a single solution, it is one of those unique challenges that need to be approached in multiple and innovative ways and requires the collaboration of legislators, organizations, schools and communities.
 

Student Connectivity Needs

  1. Students should have the ability to connect to the various instructional resources from the safety and security of their homes, regardless of the time of day. Working parents and guardians, need the support of the education system to help ensure their students are both safe and receiving equitable educational opportunities.
  2. High-quality connections are critical. Considering that students depend on synchronous and asynchronous learning through real-time Video Conferencing, consume higher quality content, use data-intensive SMART applications that are adjusting content and interventions in real-time – the quality of the connection stands out as a barrier to equitable learning opportunities.
  3. The Internet of Things (IoT) has increased demands and dependencies in and outside school buildings. Cameras for safety, contact tracing tools for COVID-19, alarms, and climate control tools are examples of systems that need access are expanding required connectivity levels.
  4. Campus-wide access is also a consideration. Connectivity in gymnasiums and on athletic fields to provide the ability to live stream events is a new consideration as well which in-person attendance is limited and over time when families are unable to travel.
  5. VPN solutions over private and public networks for filtering and safety support the protection of student data but are also bandwidth intensive when being accessed
 

Options to Consider

  1. Sponsored Services - Provide families with district-sponsored connectivity services in collaboration with vendors that provide decent connectivity services at discounted prices to students that qualify for free and reduced lunch. (e.g., Comcast Internet Essentials that provides a connection for $9.99 per month to families that qualify for free and reduced lunch status self-identified by a parent)
  2. Wi-Fi on and around school campus - Provide Wi-Fi in schools and around schools (outdoors – stadiums – etc. ) that students can access during and outside of the school day.
  3. Wi-Fi hotspots - provide Wi-Fi in other public places around the county or schools either through direct services or in collaboration with vendors services along with some basic functionality to ensure student data protection and content filtering.
  4. Mi-Fi – Cellular Wi-Fi Services  - Provide individual mobile/cellular Mi-Fi services to students that need it in addition to the family services like Comcast Internet Essentials to help with uninterrupted and unlimited capacities with data protection and content filtering.
  5. New-age solutions like CBRS solutions –  Solutions leveraging the unlicensed shared spectrum of the mid-range 5G band, called the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) to create a private LTE network solely purposed to deliver the APS network to families in a blanket area ranging anywhere between 2 to 12 miles compared to 150 or 300 feet of traditional wireless solutions.

 

Challenges to Consider

  1. The students that need connectivity are distributed in pockets that spread across the county and may have limited transportation options. (Based on heatmap created by the previous requests for support around Connectivity services)
  2. Families do not qualify for the discounted prices, but the cost to ensure each student in the home has seamless access is a problem considering the challenging economic times
  3. Community access to broadband can provide a challenge for families to rely on and use this on a regular basis with social distancing requirements and transportation issues.
  4. Multiple families / Multi-dwelling units pose challenges to using sponsored connections (limitation on quality, number of connections, number of people that can be accommodated).
  5. The original building construction and landscaping can create problems with service penetration into homes to as the stable and reliable access
  6. There are locations without fiber for broadband and no cell towers so unique solutions are required.
 
The above-mentioned needs, options, and challenges lead to the fact that there is not a single solution that can resolve and address the student connectivity needs. There must be a multi-pronged approach that includes all the choices of options that we have on hand and address the individual needs of students’ families which require us to often individually follow up with tailored solutions on a case-by-case basis.
 
It sounds daunting, but addressing this fundamental problem with all energy and resources available is the only way we can move all of our students forward with equitable opportunities for success.