How to Determine the Best Digital Divide Solution for Your School District
While countless school districts across the country share the same goal of providing reliable internet access for all students outside of school, each one has its own unique needs, differences, and challenges to overcome in order to achieve that objective. To determine the best solution for their district and to Defeat the Digital Divide, administrators must clearly outline and understand their current situation as well as their goals.
The first step in choosing a solution to bring secure and reliable connectivity to students outside of class is understanding where the gaps exist. For example, schools wanting to provide internet access to students at home might ask:
- Which students am I trying to cover? (Entire population, free and reduced, etc.)
- How many of these students are there?
- Where do they live?
- What kind of access do they currently have, if any?
Once school officials understand the distribution of their target population of students, they should turn an eye on themselves to assess their current solution and any characteristics of the district that could affect connectivity. If they’re using commercial cellular, what does their data plan look like? Is their district geographically widespread or fairly compact? Are there lots of trees or mountains in their area?
After identifying these factors, they can start looking at technologies that can augment, support, or replace their current solution to meet the needs for their target group. Potential solutions might range from implementing more compliant devices like Cradlepoints at the edges, optimizing commercially available cellular data plans, constructing a private LTE network, or a combination of any of these things.
For example, a very large and/or rural district with lots of trees may not be a good candidate for private LTE for the whole district, but it might be possible to cover 80% of the student body with LTE and then establish a blended (and still more effective and lower-cost) solution for the remaining population cluster of students.
In some cases, a school district might work in concert with its county or local municipality to improve connectivity in the area. Other times, a consortium of counties or school districts (especially in rural areas) might pull together to explore connectivity options. In these instances, it’s important to clearly understand your base use case — that is, the primary user the solution is for.
Groups aiming for student connectivity can easily get bogged down in a myriad of details ranging from billing mechanisms to installation specifics, and it can be challenging to keep all entities happy. While it’s possible to cover multiple use cases with a single solution, staying focused on that primary driver will help you identify the right solution while still leaving the option to possibly provide connectivity for secondary use cases further down the road.
Enlisting a technology expert with the knowledge and experience to understand the problem and identify the appropriate solution can help districts turn reliable connectivity into an affordable reality. Because every district has its own unique needs and goals, each solution will be a little different. Defeat the Digital Divide offers several tools and resources to help districts determine the right solution for their needs. Explore these tools for more information: