Unused TV airwaves may soon bring Wi-Fi to a Michigan district's school buses
- In an effort to close the "homework gap" for students in rural Hillman, Mich., Microsoft will tap into now-unused TV airwaves to provide high-speed Wi-Fi on school buses, according to EdTech: Focus on K-12.
- The plan to use TV white space (TVWS) is being carried out in collaboration with northeastern Michigan internet service provider (ISP) Allband Communications, and it will be limited to specific channels within certain boundaries on bus routes.
- The plan must also be approved by the Federal Communications Commission because the power level goes beyond current personal use regulations currently allowed, EdTech reports.
With educational resources delivered via devices becoming more commonplace in K-12, so too are homework assignments requiring the use of apps and other digital tools — many of which require a reliable internet connection. But not every student has reliable access at home, especially students in low-income families. and rural areas. And in rural areas, even students from more affluent families can be left out if they're remote enough that service providers haven't fully expanded to their location. Thus, they fall into the "homework gap" when they're unable to complete those assignments as a result.
Addressing the issue has been a core focus for FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has suggested making efforts to close the gap eligible for funding in the agency's E-Rate program.
It's not surprising that ISPs may not have fully expanded their coverage areas in remote rural locations just yet. Financially, it makes more sense that they'd invest in laying fiberoptic lines in high population areas first due to the greater return-on-investment from a larger potential customer base. But the Microsoft plan to use already existing TV airwaves sidesteps that concern by taking advantage of a connection that's already there and is no longer being used to its potential.
Additionally, many rural students likely endure longer bus rides than their urban and suburban peers, so by focusing on outfitting school buses with the technology, the effort can take advantage of time in which students would usually be idly conversing or otherwise preoccupied. This isn't the first effort to provide Wi-Fi on school buses, however: Similar efforts have already seen success in districts like the Coachella Valley Unified School District in California.
- EdTech: Focus on K-12 Microsoft to Use TV White Space to Put Wi-Fi on Rural School Buses
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