Tulare County begins network for all students

Tulare County Office of Education installs antennas in Visalia, Lemon Cove, Strathmore and Porterville to begin creating a countywide network of high-speed internet access

TULARE COUNTY – There is growing support statewide to make internet access a public utility, but the process could take years to reach rural residents without access or inadequate access. With the pandemic showing no signs of ending soon, Tulare County students need an answer now and the county’s Office of Education is close to providing it.

Last week, two technicians installed an antenna to a new mast on the east side of the Tulare County Office of Education’s (TCOE) Mooney Boulevard office. The antenna will broadcast a high-speed wireless signal to three other antennas being installed at Alta Vista School in Porterville, Strathmore Middle School, and Sequoia Union School in Lemon Cove, providing those schools with internet speeds of 20 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 5 Mbps upload, according to an initial test conducted last Friday. The three schools may be able to access the new network as early as Thanksgiving.

“The abrupt switch from in-class to distance learning instruction last spring brought to light the difficulties families in rural areas have in providing reliable internet access for their children,” Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire said. “District leaders shared countless stories of moms and dads using their phones as hotspots to bring temporary internet service into their homes. Internet access problems in rural areas were compounded for families with multiple school-age children and parents working from home.”

Called the Central California Learning Network (CCLN), Tulare County’s wifi project will eventually install enough antennas to provide high-speed internet access for all Tulare County students at little to no cost. Concrete planning for the CCLN began last year, with support from Kings and Imperial county offices of education and the use of an FCC license TCOE has held for over 20 years. Hire said the county has received weekly offers to purchase its license as mobile phone companies make the push to provide 5G services throughout the nation but instead made good on his campaign promise to provide every student in Tulare County with more technology and consistent internet access. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the network’s implementation and project leaders estimate the network may have an additional four to six antennas by the end of the year.

“The district superintendents and I appreciate the vision of Information Systems department leadership in creating the new network,” Hire said. “There is a possibility we could kick off the 2021-22 school year with countywide coverage.”

Director of information systems Wayne Lacey explained that the network is in its pilot phase.

“We are beginning to test the infrastructure we are putting in place, gain insight to the network range, and determine the amount of data that can be delivered based on topography and altitude. We are also hoping to combine existing private district networks into a single, cohesive network. The challenges we face are delivering service in the foothills and areas of the county operating on a different frequency—challenges we’ll address with a little creativity.”

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