2,000 TPS Students do not have Internet Access at Home

created Apr 15, 2020

Toledo has two public school districts: Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and Washington Local Schools.

Back in the 1960s or something like that, Toledo annexed Washington Township, which now comprises most of the northwest quadrant of Toledo. Washington Township had its own school system, and apparently, the township citizens wanted to keep its own public school system after the annexation. That continues today. Two public school districts in Toledo. That seems like a fair amount of duplication exists. Whatever.

Our home in West Toledo is located in the TPS district. Elmhurst Elementary is located two blocks from our home. It's one of the best performing schools in TPS. The border with Washington Local is in our neighborhood. I only need to walk about three blocks to the north, and I'm in the Washington Local district. Washington Local school buildings are located about a quarter to a half-mile from our home to the north.

It seems strange to me that Toledo has two public school districts, and we live in and near both.

A survey of area districts by The Blade found that Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Perrysburg, Oregon, and Washington Local had previously purchased and supplied computers for their students to learn at home, while TPS has not.

Toledo has attempted to narrow the divide by parking school buses with WIFI signals in area public housing complexes on alternating days for students who have their own computers to utilize in connecting with the Internet.

The [TPS] district also owns 12,000 Chromebook computers and is evaluating how to make them available to its roughly 23,000 students.

Ms. Fedor said that Internet access should be treated as a utility if the state has any chance at modernizing its education system.

James Gault, TPS’s executive transformational leader of curriculum, said the TPS administration estimates that nearly 2,000 students are without Internet access beyond their cell phones. He said the administration is trying to connect with families to assess the need for technology devices and Internet services.

Last week, the district launched a partnership with Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority to provide Wi-Fi to nearly 2,000 students by using a school bus to serve as a hotspot to 11 LMHA residences that house 1,700 TPS students.

Mr. Gault said this effort is one of many under way, as as the district hopes to provide additional Wi-Fi hotspots — portable devices that can be used to connect to the Internet over wireless cell phone networks — and Chromebooks to its most at-need families.

Washington Local Schools is also instructing students digitally, as grades 3 through 12 have Chromebooks. District officials said students are using Google Classroom to complete and submit assignments as well as communicate with teachers. Teachers are interacting with students and families via Zoom, Google Hangouts, YouTube videos, phone calls, and email.

District officials said Washington Local has been a one-to-one district for six years and has purchased 10,700 Chromebooks, costing the district $2.1 million to date in maintenance.


I wonder if community-built mesh networks would bring more internet access to users. In the summer of 2016, I bought a small Chromebook from BestBuy for $225. Today, Chromebooks can be purchased for less than that. It's a good enough laptop computer, especially if most of the software used is cloud-based.

Bringing internet access to more dwellings is not enough if the only personal computer used by many Toledoans is a cell phone/smart phone. Inexpensive Chromebooks, costing under $200, would be helpful too.

http://sawv.org/2017/12/15/building-a-community-internet-network.html

Comments by others that I included in the above post:

What is sad is the internet used to be run by the small time guys. I bought my internet off a guy down the street in the 90s who had a rack of servers and routers in a closet. The future we want is the past we had.

Another comment:

I've been very intrigued by their efforts for some time now. Last time I read about NYC Mesh, it sent me down a rabbit hole of research into mesh networks and what it takes to found an ISP. I'd love to replicate their efforts in NOLA, but the legal and technical hurdles are tricky!

https://www.nycmesh.net

WSJ article about NYC Mesh:

NYC Mesh is an all-volunteer community creating its own high-speed internet service

Detroit: https://www.alliedmedia.org/dctp/eii

The Equitable Internet Initiative is a collaboration between the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), Grace in Action Collectives, WNUC Community Radio, and the Church of the Messiah's Boulevard Harambe Program.

From July, 2016 to January, 2018, we will work together to ensure that more Detroit residents have the ability to leverage digital technologies for social and economic development.

The goals of this initiative are to:

  • increase Internet access through the distribution of shared Gigabit Internet connections in three underserved neighborhoods;
  • increase Internet adoption through a Digital Stewards training program that prepares residents of those same neighborhoods with the skills necessary to bring their communities online; and
  • increase pathways for youth into the opportunities of Detroit's burgeoning Innovation District through intermediate and advanced digital literacy trainings.

https://www.alliedmedia.org/dctp

DCTP’s mission is to use and develop technology rooted in community needs that strengthens human connections to each other and the planet. DCTP formed out of the Digital Stewards Program launched in 2014 and networks cultivated at the Allied Media Conference. DCTP offers technical support to various grassroots networks including the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, the Allied Media Conference, New America Foundation, and transnational groups interested in fostering community technology.

DCTP has facilitated 19 local and international community wireless mesh networks through its partnership with the Open Technology Institute. We coordinate the Digital Stewards Training Program, which trains community members to build and maintain their own wireless communications infrastructure, and the Detroit Digital Stewards Network. DCTP is also consulting in the implementation of Digital Stewards in New America Foundation's RISE NYC project.

From 2018: https://cyber.harvard.edu/publications/2018/01/communityfiber

By one recent estimate, about 9.2 percent of Americans, or almost 30 million people, lack access to wired home broadband service, which the FCC defines as an Internet access connection providing speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Even where home broadband is available, high prices inhibit adoption; in one national survey, 33 percent of non-subscribers cited cost of service as the primary barrier. Municipally and other community-owned networks have been proposed as a driver of competition and resulting better service and prices.


"How to start a community network"

https://www.nycmesh.net/blog/how

Here are some notes and ideas on how to start a community network.

Installing antennas is the main activity of a community network. Everything else you do should be about enabling more installs.

It takes time

We get a lot of inquiries about how to start similar projects in other areas. We’ve been going for about seven years now and during the first few years it was very slow and difficult. We actually stopped about five times and restarted again months later. It wasn’t until a year after our first supernode was running that it felt sustainable. There’s some shortcuts you can take in starting a community-owned network, but you should be prepared for the long haul.

Install your first node

Some groups never get around to installing anything. Just go and install your first node to prove you can. Set up a public access point in a cafe or other meeting place, or just turn on your guest network on your home router. Leave the router open, and set the SSID to “-Our Name-” (the first dash means it will be at the top of the list of SSIDs). With each successful install you get experience, publicity and more members joining.

It is important to do some research and copy other success stories. There are a few really big community networks (mostly non-English speaking). The biggest is Guifi in Spain. Others include Freifunk in Germany, Wlan Slovenija and B4RN in rural England. Follow those links and see what they are doing.

Guifi began on farms and gradually expanded across the country. They use hundreds of kilometers of fiber, and wireless in all modes- point-to-point (P2P), point-to-multipoint (P2MP) and mesh (MP2MP). Here is a good long interview with Ramon Roca, who started Guifi.

NYC Mesh has done many presentations that explain what we are doing. You can watch videos and see the slides here.

Sustainable funding model

Our sustainable model is very simple- new members pay a set amount that covers average hardware costs on an install, and we ask for $20/month donation. Nearly everyone pays this as it is very small compared to the ISP fees which start around $70/month.

Mmm. Maybe that $70/month typical ISP starting fee is common in New York City. For our home ISP, we use toast.net, which is a Toledo company. We or Deb has used toast.net, since the mid to late 1990s. She started using toast.net before we got married. Currently, our monthly coast is around $35 a month. toast.net uses AT&T U-verse.

Still, $20 a month for a donation fee is inexpensive. Since it's $20 to $70 in NYC, maybe if something similar existed in Toledo, the donation fee could be around $10 to $15.

More from that NYC Mesh post:

So that’s it- we have an install fee to cover hardware and $20/month covers our data center rentals. We are lucky in that all of our bandwidth is donated. We don’t rent an office or storage space, we don’t have any employees. For storage, install leaders store the gear in their apartments.

We have received two grants so far, totaling $40,000. We’ve used this to help set up supernodes and hubs. So basically grants help us expand faster.

If you try to do everything by grants, the project will fail when the grants runs out. It is two years since we’ve received any grant money and we are still expanding, entirely due to the install fee and $20/month donations.

Keep your monthly expenses as low as possible. Don’t rent rooftop space unless it is in a data center. Don’t rent an office space. Try to get donated everything.

Volunteers

Our network has more volunteers than the average community-owned network. This is partly because it is a big city, but also we’ve worked hard to encourage people to join and get involved.

Every non-profit will tell you that managing volunteers is difficult. If you are not paying people it is hard to keep them around. Volunteers are often between jobs so they will disappear when they get the new job. The only secret here is to get as many volunteers as you can and encourage them to participate in all aspects of the network. We have about 30 hard-core volunteers and many more part-time volunteers and nearly all of them do rooftop installs and online help. We don’t have specific titles, and this encourages everyone to do a bit of everything.

It's an informative post.

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