City aims to provide students with wireless Internet
(Iowa) In a move aimed at providing home Internet services to its economically disadvantaged students, the city of Council Bluffs has taken the first step toward implementing free citywide Wi-Fi.
The Council Bluffs Area Wi-Fi Consortium, which will study the feasibility of expanding Wi-Fi around the city, was launched last week – the result of a five-year partnership between the City Council and the Council Bluffs Community School District Board of Trustees.
“We survey our families once per year,” said David Fringer, the school district’s chief technology officer. “Last year the self-reported Internet access at home was a little over 80 percent indicating one in five students don't have access at home.”
Technology has become more prominent in education in recent years, especially as states continue to implement the Common Core State Standards, which require more research from students working on assignments and introduce coding and other tech-based curriculum.
Those in support of the plan say that learning opportunities will expand if students have reliable Internet access at home. Even if a student is home sick the teacher could bring the student in via Skype or make sure that the student receives the day’s assignment. Teachers could even hold video conferences with parents without scheduling a meeting in the classroom.
“It is our hope that children will be able to access knowledge at any time, particularly those whose current socioeconomic circumstances might otherwise inhibit or prevent such opportunity,” said Council Bluffs City Councilman Nate Watson.
“Our system presupposes that through hard work each of us has a chance to reach our potential. This plan empowers the next generation to be able to do so,” he said.
In order to make the plan a reality, the Wi-Fi Consortium will be charged with establishing public Wi-Fi hotspots that can be used by computers, tablets, smartphones and any other Internet-ready device.
A number of large cities around the country, including the California cities of Santa Clara, San Jose and San Francisco as well as Austin, Texas already provide free citywide Wi-Fi service. The goal is that Council Bluffs will be able to follow suit once public Wi-Fi hotspots are created.
“The city wants more of the public to have access and the schools want access for the students away from the schools,” Fringer told The Des Moines Register.
“The idea is to get into more areas," he said. “This is an agreement to study and try to do something, to bring (city and schools) together. Why do it individually when it's more efficient to do it together? I think it will be beneficial for the whole community.”
According to Pew Research, only 54 percent of households with incomes of $30,000 or less have access to broadband internet at home. These families often must use Internet services provided at work, school or a public library.
In addition, a 2013 Pew Research survey found that 54 percent of teachers said that all or almost all of their students had access to a computer and internet connection at school, while only 18 percent said students had similar access to those tools at home.