Importance of broadband connections during COVID-19

Local News

LA CROSSE/EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – In the era of COVID-19, internet access has become a lifeline to virtual learning. In 2019 the state ranked 36th nationally for access to adequate broadband in rural areas according to a recent “forward analytics” report. First News at Nine’s Phoebe Murray looks at how local school districts are being affected by coverage disparities.

The demand for students to have reliable broadband connections at home is only growing.

“Within Eau Claire, you wouldn’t think that if you drive a couple of miles outside of our city and you might not have access to the internet, I think a lot of us take it for granted,” said James Martin, Eau Claire Area School District Director of Technology

James Martin says even where coverage might reach in the city. It’s not always the high-quality access needed for digital learning.

Martin said, “We’re looking at and researching antenna systems and or boosters that might help too, but all of it takes some real effort by both the district and that family to be patient to try and figure out what we can do.”

In the Chippewa Falls School District, Director of Educational Technology Sarah Radcliffe says they are advocating for broadband expansion.

Sarah Radcliffe, CFAUSD Director of Educational Technology said, “In the meantime, because that’s a huge undertaking we have provided hot spots for families and through some trial and error we have found that almost all of our families can access hotspots.”

While Chippewa Falls students learn remotely this November, Radcliffe says they’re averaging 91-93% attendance. Almost identical with in-person teaching.

In Eau Claire Martin says, they have been able to provide 4 to 500 requests from district families for hotspot connections.

“Students and teachers can recognize that there are some limitations, so they might not have video with that particular student that might end up being an audio conference, that might be one of the compromises we need to accept at the time,” said Martin.

The two districts encourage local leaders to bring more sufficient high-speed internet in the Chippewa Valley.

Phoebe Murray First News at Nine.

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