Indianapolis launches $1.7 million program to increase student’s access to internet

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis is investing nearly $ 1.7 million to make sure students in Marion County have high-speed, reliable internet access.

The majority of the funding comes from CARES Act money as well as investments from other partnerships.

  • $730,000 in federal CARES Act funding
  • $500,000 from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation
  • $330,000 from Lilly Endowment, Inc.
  • $100,000 from the Indiana 5G Zone

During a time where students in Marion County are doing all of their learning from home, it is crucial to have internet access.

According to IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, about 30% of students don’t have access to internet that can support the demand of e-learning.

By partnering with Energy Systems Network the city will invest in creating a private internet network for students by installing antennas on the roofs of schools that students will access through a hot spot.

“Those antennas can reach about a two mile radius around the school where they are placed. So the students who will participate in the pilot will need to live relatively close to the schools,” said Paul Mitchell, President & CEO of Energy Systems Network.

Six schools will be part of the pilot program that is expected to launch in February: George Washington High School in Indianapolis Public Schools; Harrison Hill Elementary School in Lawrence Township; Southport Elementary School and Winchester Village Elementary School in Perry Township; and two public charter schools, Riverside High School and Vision Academy.

The pilot will include 1,500 hot spots that can support multiple students working at a time if there are multiple students working from one household.

“A quarter of students across Marion County’s 11 districts and roughly 50 public charter schools lack high speed internet access at home. That translates into 38,000 students out of 150,000,” Claire Fiddian-Green, President & CEO of Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

Last month the city launched a program with the Mind Trust where students could go to hubs for the day to do their e-learning.

“The effort that has been made by the mind trust would not be sustainable over the long term,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

When schools in Indianapolis started e-learning, families who didn’t have internet access did receive hot spots. This program would replace those.

“We knew there was a digital divide before COVID-19. What COVID did is just really lay bare how significant and substantial that divide is,” said IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson.

If deemed successful, in September the work will begin to expand the program for all of Marion County. It is expected that between 30,000 and 50,000 students would use the services.

“Our students and families need access to the internet before and they will continue to need it afterwards for assignments that they are completing at home or access to college applications, filling out financial aid, job applications,” said Johnson.

If the program does expand to include the entire county more antennas would be installed so that no matter where students live they could access the network.