By Julie Goldberg
The Alpena News
HILLMAN — The Hillman Community Schools Board of Education approved a memorandum of understanding for Rural Airband Initiative Michigan and Hillman Schools on Monday to provide WiFi on school buses for students.
“The memorandum is talking about what they’re going to do,” Superintendent Carl Seiter said. “Initially, there were discussions about using our tower and that backed away and there were some talks about players entering into this experiment.”
Seiter said Central Michigan University Public Broadcasting initially was included in part of the discussions.
“It was like a three-way deal and they were trying to gain some access to our tower, which gave access to Allband so Allband could use one of CMU’s towers north of Atlanta and in return Allband would help us with the bus project,” he said. “This is closer to an end product of what exactly this experiment is working on.”
The memorandum has two project goals: to provide high speed Internet service to select unserved and underserved residents and to deploy TV White Space technology on one or more of the school buses to test the success of helping the students on the bus bridge the homework gap.
Sponsors of the memorandum are Microsoft, Inc., Merit Network, Inc. Allband Communications, and Gigabit Libraries Network.
Throughout the project, Microsoft, Merit Network, and Allband Communications will provide levels of support for project management, planning and engineering, base station site readiness, equipment, base and client premise equipment, etc.
During the project, Microsoft will fund the equipment purchases and Microsoft also will provide RF engineering support. Merit Network will provide free network backhaul service and the service is limited to the TVWS service. Allband will provide free network transport services from the school buses to the school servers and Allband will repair or replace for free any equipment that has a manufacturing or equipment defect which is causing it to not perform.
Seiter said the next step is get the bus on the WiFi working.
“They’re already working on our bus trying to get the equipment to work and testing it,” he said. “We’re going to supply some devices for kids to ride around the bus and make sure that the connectivity is where it needs to be and make sure it works on the route.”
Seiter said TVWS needs to be in operation through barriers that other WiFi signals can’t get through.
Hillman will provide a bus that can be modified to house the client station equipment and an antenna, provide assistance on school bus routes to determine the best geographical area for the project, and provide morning and afternoon usage logs that include the number of students on the bus, the number of students who are using the service on the bus, and the homework applications that the students are using on the bus.
“One bus is what we’re working on right now,” Seiter said.
The project start date is the day the equipment begins to provide service as determined by Allband and the project end date will be at the end of the school year. After the project end date, Allband may negotiate a service agreement to continue the school bus service, but is not under an obligation to do so and the cost of continuing will be determined by Allband.