The Connected Nation Blog: New Government Program to Provide Michigan Students With Wireless Internet Access

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Government Program to Provide Michigan Students With Wireless Internet Access

By Wil Payton, Communications Specialist, Connected Nation

As part of our back-to-school blog series featuring stories about education and broadband, we take a look at an innovative program working to get schools and their communities online.

Two Michigan schools are among the twenty institutions chosen to participate in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Learning-On-The-Go Program, a pilot project to help schools extend wireless Internet connections beyond the classroom.

Michigan Technical Academy in Redford and Westwood Community Schools in Dearborn Heights will receive grants from the $9 million that is being allocated for the Learning-On-The-Go program.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski first announced the Learning On-The-Go program at an event in New York City in March.

“Education doesn’t stop at the schoolyard gate or the library door, so support of broadband for education shouldn’t stop there either,” he said.

The initiative is intended to give students – including those from low-income families who may have no other Internet service at home – access to homework assignments, study guides, digital textbooks, and other educational resources outside of regular school hours.

It will be paid for through the government's E-Rate program, which funds Internet access in schools and libraries and until now has never been used to pay for off-campus connections. E-Rate is one of four programs that comprise the Universal Service Fund, the federal program that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural areas through a surcharge on long-distance bills.

To be eligible for funding, each school or library had to develop a proposal to improve education outside of the classroom. The FCC then selected the winners through a competitive grant process.

The Michigan Technical Academy proposal included establishing a netbook program that utilizes an online mobile learning environment for its 5th through 8th graders with an emphasis on increasing educational productivity and proficiency with mobile learning devises, and to increase proficiency in core subjects with the use of technology.

The Westwood Community Schools proposal incorporated the use of mobile devices and/or desktop computers with wireless mobile cards along with a comprehensive online learning environment that offers a virtual educational experience for high schools students who are unable to attend school for a variety of reasons.

In 2010, the Connect Michigan Residential Technology Assessment revealed that close to 2.5 million residents did not subscribe to broadband service — an essential utility and a modern lifeline to quality jobs, information, and vital education and healthcare services.

To address the issues identified in the report, Connect Michigan and the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) convened the first Collaborative Broadband Committee (CBC) meeting in June. The CBC was established to maximize Michigan’s efforts to expand vital broadband in its communities. Attendees included representatives from the K-12 and higher education sectors along with other stakeholders with an interest in improving broadband availability and adoption in the state.

The efforts of Connect Michigan and the MPSC to engage Michigan educators and stakeholders, along with innovative federal programs such as the Learning-On-The-Go initiative, are current strategies for developing public-private partnerships to tackle the state’s high-speed Internet access and adoption challenges.