4.2 Connected schools as anchor institutions
Another means of leveraging Internet-connected schools is extending connectivity in a locality once an Internet access point has been established at a nearby school.
To achieve this, it is important to create a regulatory regime that enables or directs educational institutions to share their connectivity. One way to consider this concept is to view Internet-connected schools as regional “hubs” or “anchor points,” from which broadband connectivity – perhaps at a lower throughput than that delivered to the school – can be shared with the surrounding community.
In comments directed at broadband planning in the United States, Microsoft has made a case for schools (as well as other community institutions) as anchor points that will enable further broadband connectivity.182 In Microsoft’s view, and according to its research, the most daunting expense of delivering rural broadband connectivity is the “middle mile,” or the portion connecting a town or region to the Internet backbone. Once that connection is established, opportunities can be presented for the connected institution or private sector actors to leverage that broadband connection to provide service to local residences or businesses.
In the case of less-developed countries or regions, wireless technologies make Internet connectivity within a community more feasible. For example, schools can use unlicensed spectrum for municipal or community Wi-Fi mesh networks. Or, regulators can allocate spectrum to deploy broadband wireless access technologies that use the school’s connection for backhaul.
In addition, if the school or its private-sector partner is able to develop a sustainable business model for charging even a nominal fee for Internet access, it can defray the ongoing cost of its own broadband connection. Taking another approach, subsidized Internet access in communities can be used as a tool to meet universal access goals, with broadband-connected schools as the enabling connection point.
Anchor institutions can also be useful in managing the Total Cost of Ownership of school connectivity projects, particularly where connectivity projects also involve the need to provide electricity. The Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos para la Educación, la Ciencia y la Cultura (OEI) aims to provide rural and remote communities with access to communications technologies, but also stresses that electricity is essential to providing the basic conditions required for teaching and for the use of IT and communications technologies. It also aims to convert schools into hubs for community involvement and assembly, allowing the schools’ facilities to be used for cultural activities, literacy campaigns, Internet based training and leisure activities.183
Comments of Microsoft Corporation, FCC GN Docket No. 09-40 and FCC GN Docket No. 09-51. http://prodnet.www.neca.org/wawatch/wwpdf/68microsoft.pdf
183 Luces Para Aprender initiative - http://bancaparatodos.com/en/news/bbva-supports-the-project-luces-para-aprender-lights-to-learn/ and http://lucesparaaprender.org/web/