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School sets up free Wi-Fi broadband for pupils

A Bury school is building a community broadband network to provide free wireless access to families
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

Around 1,000 children in the Manchester area are to get free wireless broadband access in their homes as part of school community broadband project.

Communications specialist Pennine Telecom said on Monday that it has finished the first phase of the effort by Broad Oak Sports College, a state secondary school in Bury. The aim is to ensure low-income families do not miss out on e-learning and social networking by providing them with free internet access.

"This project is all about bridging the digital divide so that young people in poorer areas don't fall behind. We hope that it will help our students with both their educational achievements and their social networking opportunities," said Mark Sanders, chief executive of Bury Council, in a statement. 

Pupils' families will be rigged up to a mesh Wi-Fi network at a cost of £140,000. One wireless zone, which covers 120 homes, has already been completed with another eight to go. Bury Council has funded the project alongside Broad Oak Sports College, and the partners believe the network is the UK's first fully-free broadband service to a school community.

The mesh Wi-Fi network makes use of street furniture such as lampposts to route traffic. Backhaul is provided by a 100Mb fibre, giving an average throughput per home of about 850Kb.

The choice to install wireless rather than fibre was made to keep the cost of the network down, and to make it easier to add sites, according to Pennine Telecom.

Only schoolchildren and their families will be give a username and password to gain access to the network. Because the network is Wi-Fi based, no customer premise equipment is required.

Municipal Wi-Fi has had a chequered past, with many projects being mothballed due to their lack of usage and quality of service. Notable projects to have been curtailed include BT's Wireless Cities initiative and a public sector-led outdoor Wi-Fi coverage scheme in Norwich.

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