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Austin Turns to Buses to Provide Internet Access

  • After closing schools to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many school districts are transitioning to online learning. Yet one of the biggest challenges they face is providing internet access to those students who live in households without WiFi capability. 

    Texas’ Austin Independent School District is trying to solve this problem by deploying 110 school buses with WiFi capabilities at apartments and neighborhoods the district identified as having the highest need for internet access. 

    The buses, which have WiFi capabilities up to a distance of 200 feet, are deployed at these locations every weekday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students at these locations can access the free WiFi on their school computers, but cannot board the bus.  According to district officials, the locations will be adjusted as needed. 

    The mobile hotspots are funded through a $600,000 grant from educational technology company Kajeet, which will be used to install WiFi routers in more than 500 buses in the district. Even though the grantmaking process began months before the COVID-19 outbreak, the award will help the district implement its At-Home Learning program. 

    “As we prepare for the possibility of extended school closures, we know that an internet connection is a lifeline and a learning link for our students,” said Kevin Schwartz, chief technology officer for the Austin school system in a news statement.  “Austin ISD will be deploying many of our 500+ Kajeet Wi-Fi/Internet enabled school buses to locations around our school district so that students can connect using our district Chromebooks.” 

    The buses will also be used on field trips, activities and athletic trips throughout the 2020-2021 school year.