Impact of COVID on Broadband for a Higher Education Institution
In the delivery of remote or hybrid instruction, as we’ve experienced over the past year, there are two key locations that need to be connected: the professor and the student. The connection is provided via broadband. With high speed connections and reliability, learning is enabled. It is absolutely critical for success.
For a university with faculty and students located in more rural areas of North Carolina and in areas underserved with respect to broadband, this can be a significant problem; and in a lot of cases there may only be one internet service provider, if even available. In fact, from a technology perspective, this was probably the number one item expressed by both faculty and students. We experienced some faculty needing to come to campus only because they had poor internet connectivity, reliability, or bandwidth at home. A significant number of students experienced the same situation and we heard instances of students driving to a nearby McDonalds to use their wireless from the parking lot to access learning management systems or Zoom sessions. Locally, some students came to campus to use the university’s outdoor WiFi. Here in the mountains, cellular is not usually an effective solution due to the terrain, and in fact for many, cellular connectivity is actually being delivered over their broadband connection; so without broadband there is no cellular coverage. Without quality broadband professors can’t teach and students are not able to learn and engage.
In addition to the faculty and students, the university runs via its staff employees. Areas include facilities, finance, purchasing, information technology, campus services, fundraising, admissions, tutoring, academic services, research, and more. These services and functions need to remain operational. Staff need to be able to access systems, payroll, remotely answer phones, meet in teams, and provide services. Working remotely, as most staff was being asked to do, requires quality broadband. Without it a person cannot do their work, provide necessary functions, or assist faculty, students, or other staff.
Just before the pandemic hit, WCU Power and Morris Broadband were very close to completing the implementation of high speed broadband service to the WCU Power service area. The service area encompasses a significant number of faculty, staff, and students that live near the university. Many have said they are so thankful that the new broadband service was in place — because it is what enabled them to successfully teach, work, and study remotely. Without it, they would have either not be able to work or would only have been able to do so being present on campus — significantly impacting university operations.
Craig Fowler, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Western Carolina University