Lewisville ISD is exploring a new way to close the digital divide across the district.
LISD is considering a private LTE program in which the district would install LTE radios at various LISD locations to allow students to have internet access from home.
According to the district there were 2,500 students identified last spring as not having access to the internet at home.
Bryon Kolbeck, chief technology officer, said the district has taken several steps since the spring to provide better at-home learning options for students without access to the internet at home.
Among the efforts to remedy that was to purchase 3,500 hotspots and 12 months of service through the state-led Operation Connectivity Program.
The state set aside $200 million in CARES Act funding to match $200 million in local school district funding. The $400 million would be used to purchase hotspots and devices to provide technology to students who don't have it.
“That said, one of the challenges with that is you have ongoing recurring costs,” Kolbeck said. “And that program through the TEA had an opportunity for us to have some funding provided for those services, but I think what we’re looking for is something beyond that particular program.”
Kolbeck said since the start of the year the FCC has opened up a new spectrum, which allows for private LTE.
“The district is looking at that as a possibility,” Kolbeck said. “We’re looking at procurements and contracts to see how we can approach the project.”
Kolbeck said once an LTE is installed, certain devices can connect to those cellular radios through a hotspot, SIM card or the newer version eSIM where it can be programmed through that device.
“So that’s providing some new opportunities for us that really haven’t been there in the past,” Kolbeck said.
Kolbeck some school districts in Texas have already begun to move forward with these types of projects.
“What we’re looking to do is explore how to bring this project forward,” Kolbeck said.
Kolbeck said the program could require more devices since the devices used would have to support that particular broadband, known as Band 48 CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service). Kolbeck said the current Verizon hot spots don’t support Band 48.
“So it would have to be a hot spot that does support that band or … it could be in devices that already support Band 48,” Kolbeck said, adding that many of the newer iPads and iPhones support Band 48. “So in that sense, they’re already capable of connecting to that service. It’s just a matter of turning it on.”
Kolbeck said one thing the district is interested in is looking at doing this without any hardware, by using the eSIM feature in the future.
Trustee Tracy Scott Miller said he wants a lot of research done before the district possibly becomes a network provider.
“I’m apprehensive about being a network provider and using third-party structures and those types of things,” Miller said. “Unless it accomplishes some goal of closing the achievement gap and providing greater access without buying a bunch of new devices.”
Kolbeck said the district is open to different ways on how the program could work, from being owned by the district to being managed by a carrier.
Superintendent Kevin Rogers said there will be a lot of research done on before the information is brought back to the board. It’s likely that won’t happen until early next year.
“It’s just something to explore to see what options are out there,” Rogers said.