More broadband for rural areas

It’s no secret that the Internet is less accessible in rural areas. Even as the use of Web sites and social media become an almost integral part of daily life for many of us, simple geography is throwing up barriers for many others. Some of my friends and colleagues in sparsely populated parts of northern Wisconsin tell me they pretty much have to access the Internet from their workplace, which severely limits their ability to use Web services and social media tools. In addition, students in schools where Internet access is limited are at a distinct disadvantage, as they prepare for the workplace or college and life beyond in a social media world.

Good news. Two stories that caught my eye this week tell us that help is on the way.

First, the governor’s office and the Department of Public Instruction announced that Wisconsin won a $22.9 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act competitive grant (“stimulus money”) to expand broadband technology, primarily in rural areas. The state is chipping in an additional $5.7 million.

State Superintendent Tony Evers said the money “will bring fiber optic connectivity to schools and libraries in rural areas that do not have this vital Internet service, which has almost unlimited capacity to carry Web-based services and other applications.” It will provide high-speed Internet access to 74 school districts; eight postsecondary institutions, including two tribal colleges; and 385 public libraries; connecting them to the BadgerNet Converged Network.

“Bringing fiber to these sites in predominantly rural areas also will create the opportunity for affordable broadband access to residential and business customers in the entire community,” he said.

Is your school or community included? Find out here.

If you are interested in more details, there are plenty of them on this DPI Web site.

The other related story comes from the New York Times, which tells us how school officials in sprawling Vail, Colorado, mounted a mobile Internet router to a school bus, enabling students to surf the Web on the way to and from school. “Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared,” the story claims.

Mostly, the students use the Web to help them with homework, but not always. Vail’s superintendent, Calvin Baker, says he knew from the start that some students would play computer games. “That’s a whole lot better than having them bugging each other,” he said.

No mention of whether the district limits access to certain Internet sites. But I suspect they do. That’s a topic for another day.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Social Media, technology

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