It was part of a presentation Tues. afternoon.
WiFi access and expansion was the topic of a presentation Tuesday afternoon at Winchester Hall. The Frederick County Commissioners, and representatives from the public school system, the public libraries, parks and recreation and COMCAST were on hand to bring residents up to date on the expansion of wireless across the county.
Dr. Steven Lockart, the Deputy Superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, says the school system is moving forward when it comes to WiFi. "We have what will now be a very aggressive timeline to move all of our schools to a wireless infrastructure, hopefully by the end of next school year, June 2014," he said. Dr. Lockart noted that there isn't enough space to build more computer labs, but with a small wireless device, students can have access to the internet, even in their classrooms. "Wireless infrastructure gives them access. It brings the computers and the computer labs to them," he says.
And Jason Anderson, Executive Director of the school system, says wireless access for all students could have a positive impact. "We are committed to providing an environment to students that will, in some ways, remedy what we have seen historically with potential drop out rates, what we have seen about student achievement gaps, what we have seen in other obstacles that we've run into in public education," says Anderson.
During the budget debates, the Commissioners have said they won't fund the school system beyond maintenance of effort, but they have agreed to provide $3.1-million in one-time cash for technology and systemic maintenance.
But the big problem, some say, is making internet access available to all students, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds. COMCAST officials say they have a program call "Internet Essentials" which helps bridge the digital divide. "It is one of the first programs of its type to directly confront the digital divide by providing affordable, access to fast, home-based internet service, a discounted computer that you can use that service with, and access to free digital internet training for low income families," says John Conwell, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for COMCAST. He says the program consists of XFINITY Internet Economy Plus Tier service for $9.95 a month, an option to purchase a computer for $149.99 and access to digital training programs.
Conwell says the need is the greatest with low income families. One of the requirements is that a child in the family must be eligible for free or reduced price meals at school.
COMCAST rolled out "Internet Essentials" in 2011 and 2012.
Darrell Batson, Director of Frederick County Public Libraries, said traditional libraries still exist, but there are ways to access them on line. He says there's a program to distribute library card applications in all of the schools. "Sure, we want them to come to the library. We want them to check out books. But more importantly, we want them to have access. And if they have the library card with a PIN number, they have total access to our virtual branch: databases, books, music, documentaries. It's all electronic. They don't have to come into the building," says Batson.
"County government, FCPS, and business leaders like COMCAST are coming together to insure that we're preparing the children of Frederick County to make smart use of today's technology," says Dr. Theresa Alban, Superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools.