Loss of citywide Internet access could hurt Piedmont schools
by Laura Gaddy
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Aug 07, 2013 | 6224 views |  0 comments | 95 95 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Computers used in the Piedmont City Schools' technology intiative. These were some of 500 auctioned off to pay for new ones.  Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
Computers used in the Piedmont City Schools' technology intiative. These were some of 500 auctioned off to pay for new ones. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star
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Piedmont students are receiving new laptop computers but they may not be able to use them away from school when classes begin later this month.

A citywide wireless-Internet system the community set up last year was disabled in June because the school system lost a grant that helped pay for it. Now, schools Superintendent Matt Akin is trying to find another way to fund community Internet access, a key to providing “anytime, anywhere learning” through technology.

“If you don’t have access, then that’s really a myth,” Akin said.

Akin said the school system, the city and the Internet service provider, Information Transport Solutions, a Wetumpka-based company, could develop a financial plan to start providing free access to residents again. But, he added, that means they would have to work together to come up with several thousand dollars each month.

“Our students are making so many gains,” Akin said. “We’ve come too far not to come to some solution.”

Piedmont began providing a laptop computers to students in grades four through 12 in 2010. Since then, the school district has expanded the program, and has been recognized nationally for its efforts, including being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education.

The system took its initiative a step further during the last school year, when it used a grant to provide Internet access to the community so students could work on their computers away from school. While the grant helped fund the project, the school system, the city and the Internet provider cooperated to make the project work.

It cost roughly $20,000 each month to provide citywide access under the grant. Akin said it would have to be less for Piedmont to afford to pay for it without the grant, and he added that he hopes the company will reduce the cost.

“We believed in it for the school district,” said Tonya Young, the company’s Piedmont account manager. “This is a major thing for the state of Alabama, for the nation.”

Universal access is also central to the system’s motive for starting the program – ensuring all students have access to the Internet regardless of their families’ ability to pay for it.

Now Akin, Young and Mayor Rick Freeman say they want to restore community-wide Internet access in Piedmont, but the company, school system and city have yet to meet to resolve the matter.

Young said her company has been trying to schedule a meeting with the city, but to no avail. Freeman said Wednesday he was unaware of the problem and did not know the company was trying to reach him.

Freeman added that his own attempts to meet with school officials in recent months have been unsuccessful. But, he said, he wants to do what he can to help the schools.

“We talk, but not like we should,” Freeman said. “We can’t help if we don’t know what’s going on.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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