Finding reliable internet access outside of the classroom is an ever-present challenge for many K-12 students. The majority of schools closed nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leaving more than 56 million K-12 students in the US attending school online. Although summer break has provided some relief, schools must plan for a return to schooling – which may or may not include a physical school – in the fall.
Combating the challenge of a “new normal” is the recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) that shows 14% of children ages 3-18, or 9 million kids, don’t have internet access at home. A quarter of all U.S. households don’t have broadband access, which makes logging in for video lessons a gamble.
Equitable access and the digital divide were always present in our education systems, but the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put the issue central to daily instruction.
Some school districts tried to alleviate the burden of home internet connectivity by providing students and teachers with mobile hotspots, but this can quickly become costly and just isn’t feasible for every school district. Others offered parking lots and buses with WiFi to those who could travel, but still, cost and access is far from sustainable. There is, however, a new technology available that could be the answer for students and teachers.
Private LTE (pLTE) technology is a cellular–based network that relies on Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) frequencies to reach a wider area. Essentially, this solution provides a cellular network that students can access with school resources, while providing the same network security as on-site WiFi. That means the same level of security, access and connectivity that is available at the school itself.
CBRS does not require spectrum licenses, which will reduce the overall cost of data transmissions. this makes private LTE networks not just a reliable source school connectivity, but an affordable, cost-effective option.
The need for connectivity was clear long before a global pandemic shifting learning – maybe forever. COVID-19 and any future pandemics makes it necessary to immediately and systematically address a fundamental right of each student: reliable access to the internet. Private LTE networks can bring connectivity to our school districts and our communities – now.