Piedmont schools, city leaders and Internet provider look to get students back online
by Laura Gaddy and Daniel Gaddy
Star Staff Writers
Aug 17, 2013 | 3986 views |  0 comments | 138 138 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Leaders in Piedmont will have to come up with more than $10,000 per month to bring back a free, citywide wireless Internet system for students – something the schools superintendent says is pivotal for the children’s success.

A year ago, the city, the school district and a Wetumpka-based technology company collaborated to set up the system. The company, Information Transportation Services, used fiber-optic cables already installed by the city to link transmitters atop telephone poles across Piedmont.

Superintendent Matt Akin said the initial costs for the infrastructure were $100,000 for the school district alone. However, the monthly costs were $30,000.

A federal grant paid for 80 percent of the project during the first year, and the school district’s match was $9,000. However, the city gave the school system $6,250 of the nearly $8,000 per month in fees it received from the company for use of the community’s cables and poles.

But when school ended so did the grant, and city officials could only keep the system operating until July before they shut it down.

City technicians have met with representatives from the company to see if they can reach a compromise on the price. Jeff Drury, chief financial officer for Information Transportation Services, said the company can provide the service for somewhere between $17,000 and $20,000.

Further complicating things, however, the city stopped giving the schools the monthly $6,250 contribution despite having a three-year agreement to do so, Akin said.

Mayor Rick Freeman said he was unaware of the halted payments until last week. He said the line item earmarking the money for the schools was inadvertently left out of the budget.

Freeman said he’s ready to talk to school officials and hopes to meet with them next week.

“We’re going to get this taken care of as soon as possible,” Freeman said.

Akin said he believes the community will come together to keep the system going for students. Since 2010, Piedmont’s schools have issued each child in grades four through 12 a laptop computer, and the faculty has worked to incorporate the technology into classroom instruction.

Because of the program, the school district got attention from Harvard education researchers and received awards from groups like the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools.

But Akin said the district’s education model depends on students going online.

“If you ask a teacher what made the difference, they'll say access,” he said.

According to the superintendent, the school system partnered with Verizon to offer broadband cards to some of the students who live outside the city. The devices cost families $40 monthly, or $15 for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. But the wireless system is crucial for many students living in the city.

Akin said that without a citywide Internet system, teachers will have to consider whether some students can get somewhere with free Wi-Fi access to do their work.

“My teachers don't have to worry about that and that shows up in our results,” Akin said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star. Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @DGaddy_Star.
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Piedmont schools, city leaders and Internet provider look to get students back online by Laura Gaddy and Daniel Gaddy
Star Staff Writers

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