Donations from AT&T, Duke Energy Foundation, Google to help equip more than 280 school buses with Wi-Fi

Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Starting this week, additional school buses will bring internet access to communities without it to help more North Carolina students connect to school online.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced the plan to equip more school buses with hotspots following the announcement that K-12 public schools would continue remote learning through the end of this school year.

“In many communities, school buses are already delivering meals to students and their families. Now they’re delivering Wi-Fi for online learning,” Governor Cooper said.

As many as 280 more school buses will be equipped with Wi-Fi thanks to donations from AT&T, Google and Duke Energy Foundation. AT&T and Google are providing up to 100 Wi-Fi hot spots each and the Duke Energy Foundation is providing up to 80. The first 156 devices are expected to be delivered starting Wednesday to communities in 29 counties across the state.

At Cooper’s request, NCDIT is working with the North Carolina Business Committee on Education (NCBCE) and Hometown Strong as well as providers and other corporate partners to help more students who lack home internet access get connected during this time, including through installing Wi-Fi technology on more school buses.

The buses will travel to underserved areas in school districts and park in designated locations, such as a school nutrition meal distribution site or a grocery store, so students can use this temporary access to turn in assignments, download materials and connect with teachers. The drive-up Wi-Fi access will also be available for all residents in the communities to use to connect to healthcare providers, apply for unemployment, and access other critical information and services while exercising appropriate social distancing precautions.

These buses will join the hundreds of other free Wi-Fi hotspots from providers across the state who are already providing locations where residents can access the internet during this crisis.

“We are deeply thankful to all the vendors and service providers who are stepping up to help our children and our communities,” NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Tracy Doaks said. “Their response ─ including offers for free or affordable service, without fees or penalties ─ is helping keep North Carolina connected during this critical time.”

Schools in Avery, Bertie, Bladen, Burke, Caswell, Chowan, Columbus, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gaston, Gates, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Johnston, Martin, Montgomery, Northampton, Perquimans, Person, Randolph (includes Asheboro City Schools), Robeson, Sampson (includes Clinton City Schools), Scotland, Tyrrell, Vance, Wayne, Warren and Yadkin counties will receive the first 156 Wi-Fi hotspots.

A team from the NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office, Hometown Strong and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) began delivering the hotspots the afternoon of Tuesday to local education advisors. Outreach to other school systems to determine the location of additional hot spots is ongoing.

Local school officials will determine the exact locations and schedules for school bus Wi-Fi hot spots in their communities.

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