Alta Vista students first to access county’s free WiFi

Reggie Ellis

East Porterville school is one of three K-8 districts being connected to free, high-speed internet access through Tulare County Office of Education’s Central California Learning Network

TULARE COUNTY – Students at a single school district near Porterville have access to high-speed internet access for the first time ever.

The new Central California Learning Network (CCLN)—a network created by the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) in partnership with local districts to provide high-speed internet access for students at little to no cost—is now serving the Alta Vista School District in East Porterville. Alta Vista School, a K-8 single school district of about 550 students, was one of the first districts to receive an antenna last fall and students were able to access the network beginning on Feb. 1.

Superintendent Rob Hudson said all but three households of the district’s more than 500 students can now access the school’s secure network from their house. Hudson said students connecting through the high-speed network are reporting consistently solid internet connections.

“We were kind of the guinea pigs as the first one but we couldn’t be happier with the results,” Hudson said.

Prior to the installation of the antenna, the district brought students on campus in small cohorts to utilize the school’s internet. Several weeks ago, the district distributed 40 hotspots to students who did not have internet access at home. Hudson said the service is provided free of charge for Alta Vista families as over 90% of the district is income eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals at school.

“The new hotspots and the new higher speed internet access will increase connectivity and reliability,” said Dr. Rob Hudson, superintendent of Alta Vista School. “This new access will allow students to work from home utilizing district security protocols so that we can focus our on-campus support to those students with the most severe needs.”

Through the CCLN, TCOE helped the district overcome several critical areas of concern, including raising the antenna, integrating the transmitter into the school’s system, and providing overall access to the internet for students so they can now work from home utilizing the new hotspots.

“We look forward to integrating this technological surge into our learning process beyond the COVID-19 crisis,” Hudson added.

The CCLN is a project of the Information Systems program and will soon be broadcasting internet speeds of 20 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 5 Mbps upload to other K-8 districts including Strathmore Middle School and Sequoia Union School in Lemon Cove. Tulare County’s wifi network will eventually install enough antennas to provide high-speed internet access for all Tulare County students. 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.

“I never imagined I would have the ability to impact so many students prior to this project,” TCOE’s director of information systems Wayne Lacy said.

Lacy explained that the network is still in its pilot phase and a few hurdles remain before every student can access the network in Alta Vista. He said there are nine households who need access but are currently unable to connect, most for geographic reasons. Antennas require line of site relays making it difficult to reach homes behind hills, in wooded areas or in small valleys, often referred to as gullies, or across long distances. Lacy said TCOE is working to offer long range antennas, for houses more than two to three miles from the school, wifi hotspots to capture the signal and interior models to amplify the signal at a location.

“The idea is develop a network that covers every corner of the county,” Lacy said.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the network’s implementation and project leaders estimate the network may have an additional 28 antennas by the end of next month. As CCLN begins integrating existing antennae being utilized at unified districts in Lindsay, Porterville, Tulare and Visalia, to name a few, the network should be broadcasting from around 50 antennae by end of the 2021. He said TCOE staff is already working on combining Earlimart and Pixley school districts and working on a large array to cover the Three Rivers area. The biggest challenge will be getting the signal to the northwest corner of the county in areas like Teviston, where few homes, if any, have access to some type of internet access.

“We were all excited when the project began and a year later we are just as excited to continue finding ways to serve more students,” Lacy said.

For more information about its development, contact Dr. Wayne Lacy at [email protected].

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