Monday, June 9, 2008

MSAD offers local solution to internet access

High-speed internet access in rural areas continues to be an issue in Maine, as well as other similar parts of the country. A local school system, may offer a solution that might be utilized in other parts of the state.

Union 98 (which serves MDI, Long Island, Swan Island, and Cranberry Isles) information technology manager Norman Hill told selectmen this week that a free, unionwide wireless internet access initiative for students and teachers could result in the same access for all Mount Desert Island residents.

This was of interest to Tremont, where Internet Exploratory Committee members said they have seen little interest from internet service providers in providing service to rural areas.“I just don’t think the providers really care,” said Mark Piccurro. Hill said his proposal involves offering free wireless internet access in the homes of all students and teachers who use Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptops. Students in grades 7-12 have MLTI laptops. The bonus side of the project is that, once the wireless transmitters are set up to accommodate student access, other residents will be able to subscribe with the provider for the same wireless service.

Students in Union 98, like those across the state, have laptops, but not all have high-speed internet access in their homes. Some have no internet access at home at all, he said. He estimated that about 40 percent of students have broadband service and the other 60 percent have dial-up or no service. This makes it increasingly difficult, he noted, for many students to get their homework done at home. In the meantime, he said, the schools are becoming more technology-oriented, as teachers assign increasing amounts of work that require internet access.

Two Tremont residents said they have seen students huddled outside of the Bass Harbor library, when the library is closed and even during the coldest winter months, to take advantage of the library’s WiFi access for their homework.

Grant funding for the project could possibly come from Connect Maine, a state initiative designed to bring wireless service to rural areas.

Read the entire Bar Harbor Times' article here.

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