Monday, August 11, 2014

Community / Municipal Networks and Classroom Extension for Rural South Texas



An article got published in our local paper with a few lines I was quoted on regarding citywide wireless access.
"Misison to Set-up WI-Fi Hotspots for Students"
All in all I think it's a great idea to start to look at classroom extensions in more areas like ours. I am a firm believer in extending education into the community where possible, and I continue to work on projects like this anywhere I get the opportunity to. From the inception of these technology pushes to get tablets and Chromebooks into students hands, I have always asked "why not infrastructure first?"

Bridging the digital divide and providing access to rural parts of our country is a way to use tech that I absolutely cherish. Growing up in an undeserved area has given me a perspective into these types of communities. When someone can't afford to heat their home or buy clothes, how can they justify even $15 a month for internet access? I am a strong believer in helping out the entire community for the growth of the city or town, and I think this is why its always been a soft spot for me.
Through Point to Multipoint wireless instead of expensive fiber connectivity, the decreasing cost of outdoor access points, and now the backing of the FCC and government with the new E-Rate rules, pushing Wi-Fi into classrooms and communities will hopefully become more commonplace. If we can leverage assets from cities and municipalities to help usher in this new age of at-home connectivity for students, imagine the possibilities? Remote learning, increased access to educational resources, the ability to learn at a pace and program customized to the students, etc. I think these are just a few of the benefits we'll see in the upcoming years with these types of classroom extension

Just a few days before the polls closed, the re-election campaign for Mayor Salinas dropped this YouTube video, and it got a couple of us local tech guys excited.


In an environment like these two local districts, Sharyland ISD and Mission CISD, they have started a limited deployment of technology to the students, while looking at the bigger picture of constant connectivity. I think this partnership between City and School District it's a great approach.  The statistics in our area, 37% adoption rate (the lowest in the US), has always been something I have thought needed some significant improvement, especially when talking about community / classroom extension. No one entity can do it alone.

In early 2012 I got invited to join a friend, and local super nerd, on the rooftop of a building in the City of Mission to provide free Wi-Fi during the local Citrus Parade.

A great view of the main street, Conway Ave., in Mission, Texas.
Not the best desk, but it worked for the day.


It was a proof of concept to help bolster the efforts he was mounting to build a community based network, so I was happy to help. Using some inexpensive off-the-internet gear, the network quickly got bombarded with requests to join.

Shaine syncing up mesh units and testing antenna locations.

It was a totally awesome test and it showed that there was a very large interest in the Mission community for Free Wi-Fi. Since then, Shaine Mata (who's also quoted in the article) has joined our team here at Frontera to help build out projects like this, as well as lend his efforts to a number of other things we do. It's exciting to see it come *almost* full circle from that rooftop. Heck, at we have a newspaper article that is spawning some conversation, so that's a great start :)

I'm excited about what we are doing down here in South Texas. We have a few cities that are already involved in, or working on, setting up connectivity solutions for their residents. The City of Rio Grande City cut the cord on their downtown Wi-Fi hotspot to kick off Phase 1 of a bigger initiative earlier this year, a project we designed, engineered, and installed. It is already getting huge points from the local school district for providing students a solution for the lack of broadband at home!

Me (Drew), Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal, Darel (Frontera)


I hope to see more communities realize the potential of these networks and keep involving more school districts to partner in making community efforts a priority for helping students ... and remember, feel free to call or email if you need help designing, engineering, integrating, or purchasing this type of solution :) </shameless plug>


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