Mobile HotspotsThe Center is working with partners in Lancaster, NH, and the Maine West region to ensure that students can access the internet to fully participate in the distance learning necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the Maine West region, the Center is working with local and national partners to deliver mobile hotspot-enabled tablets to students without home internet access. A total of 150 devices are being distributed to students across four rural school districts serving Oxford Hills, Bethel and Rumford-Dixfield areas.

“These hotspots should be helpful to some of the 10-15% of our students who struggle with Internet access,” said Dave Murphy, superintendent of schools for SAD 44 in the Bethel area.  “Hopefully, this will help us to further level the playing field” so all students can keep up with their class work.

In Lancaster, N.H., the Center has teamed up with the Lancaster Rotary Club to quickly get mobile hotspots with prepaid data plans to students from White Mountains Regional High School, which serves the towns of Carroll, Dalton, Jefferson, Lancaster, and Whitefield, N.H. Some of the devices will go to students at Groveton High School as well.

The students will use the hotspots, which come with 5 gigabytes of data prepaid, to access the data they need over cellular towers. “That should be enough data for them to use Google Classroom, watch assigned videos, email teachers and peers, maybe do a 10-minute hang-out for discussions,” said Rob Scott, Career and Technical Education Director for White Mountain Regional High School, who is distributing the hotspots and helping to set them up.

In both areas, acting quickly has been a priority to ensure students have full access to their online learning programs and because the nationwide shift to working and learning from home has strained the supply of available devices. The pandemic has elevated awareness of how inequitable digital access affects people, schools and businesses in rural areas with inconsistent broadband access.

In Maine, the Center worked in partnership with Community Concepts Finance Corporation to connect with the Maine-based National Digital Equity Center and quickly secure affordable devices at a time when demand for mobile hotspots was spiking. In Lancaster, hotspots are being purchased in small batches due to purchasing limits.

The Center donated funds to the Lancaster Rotary Club to purchase the hotspots for White Mountains Regional High School.

The Maine project is being provided through the Maine West initiative, coordinated by the Center. Additional funding from The River Fund is directly supporting the cost of devices in the Bethel area.