In Milwaukee, students and teachers in the public schools could get free wireless service in their homes via WiMAX, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. While other districts have offered dial-up access, Milwaukee's WiMAX-based system would be a first.
James Davis, MPS director of technology, said he sees WiMax as the means to provide Internet access to students from families too poor to afford a phone line, for students who change addresses faster than service providers. Without this type of initiative, those students would fall further behind their peers, adding to the "digital divide," Davis said.
Even those students with computers at home are at a disadvantage when their parents can't afford monthly charges, even for a dial-up connection. Providing them with computers is another challenge that MPS is trying to tackle in other ways.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, the WiMax service would be based on the MPS television channels, which the FCC licensed as part of the Educational Broadband Service. The television bandwidth and the WiMax technology allow a single antenna to serve users several miles away, requiring fewer antennas to serve a larger area. And the WiMAX and Wi-Fi systems could be merged in the future.
One impetus driving the pursuit of WiMax is a deadline for the schools to use the educational channels that the FCC allocated decades ago. Those channels had been used to broadcast educational programs, but only within the schools and only in a one-way communication format.
The FCC has directed the schools to put those channels, 12 in all, to use by 2008. If not put to use, they are to be auctioned off, likely to vendors looking for frequencies for their own wireless networks. "This wireless spectrum is beachfront property; it's priceless," Davis said.