Our project is to provide the people in and nearby to Star City School District with the internet. We are working to get a lifeline service hotspot for low-income residents who do not have wifi available to them. The major goal we would like to accomplish is to get more internet towers on the outskirts of our town so wifi will be made available to all students. Our school is leading the state in computer science with our PLTW and EAST classes, we are also one to one with Chromebooks. This means our students have a device to take home every day for homework but most of our students have no internet access or very slow and sluggish internet at home. This makes the use of Chromebooks difficult at the least. This is why we are so motivated on this project. Our first step was to take a survey of our residents to see what internet (if any) they currently have and what the service is like. Next, we partnered with local businesses to give away prizes to encourage people to fill out the surveys. This was a success and we collected surveys of around 150 households. This may not seem like many but with a population of 2,000 and the median family size of 4, we thought it was a good majority. Next, we mapped our findings and contacted the local internet providers to add the locations of current internet towers. We wanted to see the relation of service to tower location. Next, armed with this information we spoke to Anthony Owen a Star City Alumni and Computer Science initiative coordinator for the governor. We gathered his insight and advice and were told that we have an infrastructure issue and it is hard to bring services to rural communities because of the money. Next, he told us about the lifeline service hotspots and since we are about 80% free and reduced we knew most people would qualify. In this day and age internet is a major tool for people to be successful.
We began to tackle the infrastructure issue head-on by contacting AT&T who is our main WIFI provider. According to them if we have a number of people that are having the same issue, which we knew was true, we could get them together and ask for help to fix our towers. We began a petition and we have almost met our goal of 500 signatures. https://www.change.org/p/star-city-high-school-east-we-want-to-provide-lincoln-county-with-better-internet-service-and-lifeline-hotspots/share_for_starters?just_created=true
This petition gave us some traction and we were put in contact with Mark Raney a Manager at AT&T. We had many meetings with him via phone and presented this project to our administration using information provided by AT&T. We were excited to see things moving and then there was a policy change that affects us at AT&T. We felt like we were starting over but our facilitator encouraged us to make contacts and keep moving. We promptly made contact with our State Representative Mike Holcomb and Governor Asa Hutchinson. We were invited to attend a webinar on broadband service for our state. We also received information on what the state is doing to try to help. One of the items was from the INA Information Network of Arkansas. It involved the Advanced Communication & Information Joint Technology Committee and The Arkansas Legislative council’s report of service authorization and rates according to Act 550.
One of the most interesting things that we received was the Arkansas State Broadband manager’s report. One of the quotes that really related to us was from Yessica Jones, State Broadband Manager and she said “A central focus of this Arkansas State Broadband Manager’s Report is to continually evaluate Arkansas’s progress in expanding broadband and to track the public and private initiatives that will make broadband increasingly available, adequate, and affordable to all Arkansans regardless of geographical location.”
Attached to this Report was a map of the internet service in Arkansas and it was then that we realized that not only do we have an internet issue in our county but this was the perfect project for us because we were the bullseye for the percentage of our population without sufficient internet. Also, in this report are a list of business and internet providers that are trying to close the internet service gap. Currently, We are making more contacts and our next steps are to make new partnerships and bring attention and more internet service to our area. We also have begun working on trying to get WIFI hotspots on our buses for the rural routes that are over an hour long each way. We think that all of these issues fit hand in hand and will ultimately help our students and our communities future.