Michigan City Area Schools, in partnership with Neo Network Development, has entered Phase 2 of a comprehensive project providing free wireless broadband internet access to a growing number of its students.

Funding for the wireless broadband project has been made possible by a $600,000 grant from the Indiana Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER).

A 60-foot pole and wireless equipment recently erected at Knapp Elementary School will provide free wireless internet service to all MCAS-owned devices at approximately 300 homes with up to a one-mile radius of the school. In order to access the service, families in the area will be issued a free, pre-configured router that plugs into a standard home electrical outlet. The router will enable school Chromebooks and tablets to access the internet. It can be kept in the home until all students residing at that address have left the MCAS district. 

This week, MCAS contacted 65 households in grades PreK-12 living within the immediate coverage area, offering them the router. Once the functionality and service quality is verified at these homes, additional families will be contacted. 

“We are encouraging all 65 of these households to take advantage of this free access, even if they currently have other broadband services,” said Kevin McGuire, MCAS Director of Technology. “This will increase the internet bandwidth in these homes, enhancing their existing service for other family members.”

According to McGuire, the wireless equipment at Knapp is the latest to be installed on an MCAS building, providing “a swath of connectivity” through Michigan City. Wireless Hubs now exist at Knapp, the Elston Building, and the Administration Building. The service limits access to streaming and video game outlets, to ensure that students are using the network to complete school-related tasks.

Work continues to improve performance and optimize the network.  McGuire says that once this is complete, close to 1,500 households with MCAS students will be served.

Neo Network CEO Vince Aragona says the private wireless LTE network established for this project utilizes MCAS’ existing fiber routes and the CBRS spectrum. “School districts, cities, and counties across the country are spending millions on temporary solutions that don’t solve the problem of access for all students,” he said. “Investing new grant funds in a private network based on the latest wireless and fiber technologies addresses the specific needs of the community and provides a permanent solution.”

MCAS was poised to transition to virtual learning from the onset of pandemic, due to the district’s comprehensive 1:1 technology program, which ensured all teachers and students had devices in hand. MCAS also provided “hotspots” to those in the most need who lacked internet access. Moving forward, however, MCAS plans to continue partnering with Neo Network to add more wireless Hub locations in hopes of providing connectivity for all MCAS students. 

“Our company provided a turnkey solution for this project, including design, technology selection, installation, testing, activation, and customer support,” said David Wojcik, VP of Business Development for Neo Network. “Most people don’t realize the massive potential for building out these private LTE networks utilizing the CBRS spectrum.  Broadband access is only one of many applications including security cameras, utility monitoring, mobility and more.  Everyone deserves broadband access.” 

“Reliable internet continues to be our largest hurdle when it comes to virtual learning,” McGuire said, estimating that 10 percent of the MCAS student body lacks quality internet access. “Today’s students need internet access not only for eLearning days, but also to complete homework assignments, to apply for colleges and scholarships, and much more.”