Texas City, School Districts Partner on Wi-Fi Network

The city of Laredo is partnering with local school districts to create a public Wi-Fi network that would be accessible to students without Internet service in the event of a resurgence of the novel coronavirus.

by Julia Wallace, Laredo Morning Times / May 26, 2020
Shutterstock/Grenar

(TNS) — Considering the possibility of a resurgence of the coronavirus this fall, the City of Laredo and the city’s two school districts are collaborating to create a public Wi-Fi network so that students without Internet at home will still be able to learn remotely.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of people that are at or below the poverty line and there’s a significant amount of people that don’t have access to Internet,” Councilman Marte Martinez said.

The eventual goal will be to create a citywide “mesh” network, explained the city’s IT Director Homero Vazquez. With federal or state grants, this could be accomplished within a year, he said.

In the short term, the city’s plan is to create neighborhood access points working with the school districts and the city’s existing infrastructure. Hot spots would be placed in recreation centers, libraries and schools.

Within Laredo ISD, they could create Wi-Fi access points at eight rec centers, 12 schools and four libraries. United ISD’s boundaries are much larger, so the access points would not be as close together. They would include three rec centers, 24 schools and three libraries.

This public Wi-Fi network would be separate from the city’s and would therefore require separate tech support and upkeep.

Vazquez said it would cost about $3,000 to install Wi-Fi at each site, plus an annual reoccurring cost of $8,200 per site. So for the city’s initial 16 sites, this initiative would cost about $180,000 in its first year, Vazquez reported.

He said they are looking at utilizing city parking lots first so that people could easily maintain a social distance while using the network.

Judd Gilpin and Claudia Balli, school board trustees from UISD and LISD respectively, both expressed that they would like to parallel the city’s efforts.

Economic Development Director Teclo Garcia noted that the importance of this effort cannot be under-emphasized.

“In economic development, having broadband and Internet available to schools and the educational system is absolutely essential,” he said. “As everyone knows, Laredo along with places like Brownsville and places in West Virginia are at the very, very bottom of I9nternet access, broadband access.”

Councilman Roberto Balli, husband of Claudia Balli, noted that LISD will soon be distributing Chromebooks to all middle schoolers. This effort is pointless if they don’t have access to WiFi, he said.

Mayor Pete Saenz clarified that these access points would be available to the entire public, not only only students.

Council voted to collaborate with the school districts and any other agencies that wish to participate to create a Wi-Fi grid for the city.

©2020 the Laredo Morning Times (Laredo, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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