North Carolina Rural Student Home Internet Access Pilot Program Initial Report

Executive Summary

In 2017, long before the pandemic, the Technology Infrastructure Lab at the NC State University Friday Institute for Educational Innovation had already begun investigating wireless technologies to provide last-mile internet access to K-20 students, as well as techniques to improve wireless coverage in large campus environments, such as colleges and universities.

Based on that groundwork, in 2019 the Friday Institute suggested to the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that research be undertaken on some emerging technologies which could be used to connect students to the internet while at home, or away from school.

As a result of the pandemic, the NC Department of Public Instruction and the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) awarded the Friday Institute research grants to investigate alternative and cutting-edge wireless technologies that could be used to provide rural students with home internet access.

The Friday Institute, already having substantial ties to the K-12 community and significant experience in networking and broadband technology and policy, immediately began work to deploy emerging wireless internet technology to approximately 175 families in four K-12 school districts.

This report, the first to be produced as a part of these research grants, serves to show the progress and expected expenses, and to provide some early findings and recommendations. An additional report with much more quantitative data will be developed in the first quarter of 2022 after all pilot families have had an opportunity to use the home internet service for several months while school is fully in session.

To date, the most successful deployments in the pilot consist of approximately 75 SpaceX Starlink Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite terminals that have been in use for between one and five months. Preliminary speed test data from these units is very encouraging. While some minor service disruptions have been encountered, most of the families receiving internet access from the Starlink service are overwhelmingly satisfied and their students are using the service daily.

We have deployed approximately two dozen Television Whitespace (TVWS) customer premises devices in cooperation with Hyde County Schools and RiverStreet Networks.

Work on the development of a Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) pilot in Chatham County is underway and buildout should be ready for approximately 30 families when the new school year starts in the fall of 2021.

View Resource