Facebook Joins Initiative To Provide Free Wi-Fi To Students In Forest City, N.C.

By David Cohen 

FreeWiFiKey650Students in North Carolina’s Rutherford County School District will be part of a pilot program aimed at bringing them free Wi-Fi as the result of a collaboration between Facebook, the Town of Forest City (where the social network has a data center), Rutherford County Schools, and PANGAEA Internet.

The partners announced in a press release that the first phase of their initiative will launch immediately, to 75 to 100 homes in the neighborhood surrounding the Rutherford Opportunity Center in Forest City, adding that the town was chosen due to its high concentration of students and a 2011 initiative by the school district to provide a personal laptop to every middle- and high-school student.

Officials of the school district found that nearly one-half of the students who received laptops did not have Internet access at home, prompting the initiative.

The Town of Forest City is providing the space and power for the Wi-Fi end points, while Facebook is providing the actual end points, and the network signal is coming from PANGAEA.

The parties said future phases will include expanding access to more students, as well as improving network performance.

Keven McCammon, site manager for Facebook’s data center in Forest City, said in the release:

Connectivity can open up new opportunities for everyone, and we’re excited to partner with Forest City, the Rutherford County School District, and PANGAEA Internet to help bring that access to more of Forest City’s students. Facebook has called Forest City home for more than three years now, and we are proud to be able to help the community continue to invest in its future.

McCammon added in a note on the Forest City Data Center page:

We’re hoping this program will build on the school system’s 1:1 initiative, which provides a personal laptop to every middle- and high-school student in the district. More than 6,000 students have received a laptop so far through that program, but administration officials have found that nearly one-half of those students don’t have access to the Internet at home. Working together, we want to close that gap — we want all of our students to be able to take full advantage of the 1:1 program and use the Internet both at school and at home.

If the first phase of the pilot — which begins today — is successful, we’ll work to expand the program to cover more students in the Rutherford County School District. If you’re near the ROC, you can test the program now by joining the free “Connect” network. Please send any feedback you have to PANGAEA at staff@e-polk.org.

This program is still very early in its development, and we all have a lot of work to do to build out this network and ensure that it performs well for the students who need it. But we are proud to continue our community outreach efforts and work with partners in Forest City to try to ensure that our students can enjoy all the benefits of connectivity.

Forest City Mayor Dennis Tarlton said in the release:

It’s heartwarming to see a local business, the nonprofit community, the school system, and the town come together to provide such an important service to our students and help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. This joint initiative is the perfect example of what makes Forest City such an exceptional place to live and work. This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Forest City.

Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Janet Mason added:

One of the pillars of the 1:1 initiative is to ensure equal access to digital information for all students. We are thrilled to have partners like Facebook, PANGAEA Internet, and the Town of Forest City who share this vision and are enabling us to take another step toward delivering on our promise. When you can utilize technology to enhance educational opportunities for our county’s young people, everybody wins.

And PANGAEA Internet Executive Director Ron Walters said:

PANGAEA Internet’s nonprofit mission is focused on improving our community, and as Rutherford County’s premier fiber-optic Internet-service provider, we understand the impact that wireless access can have on businesses and families alike. We are delighted to be a partner in this joint initiative to invest in our region’s students by extending access to their homes.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.