Broadband is Available at the Henderson County Library
Above are photographs I took on a journey to the Hendersonville Public Library. As a resident of Asheville (without a vehicle), I made a the journey with an Asheville electric bus ride to the airport and transferred to the Apple Country Transit. The Apple Country bus ride took me to Downtown Hendersonville; and then I took a short ~3 block walk to the Henderson County Public Library at 301 North Washington St.
I was enlightened to find the library open and that free internet resources were available indoors.
Computer Help and a Printer
The Hendersonville Library has a Technology Desk with staffing available to assist with your connectivity and basic tech inquiries. Color and black & white printing is also available for a nominal fee.
Learn more about the Henderson County Public Library hours and resources at the website below.
When the Governor made the decision to close schools late on Friday, March 13, 2020 BCS made arrangements for all of our K-5 students to pick up their 1:1 device March 16-17 (BCS was already 1:1 K-12 with all 6th – 12th graders taking devices home) and began virtual “remote learning” on Wednesday, March 18, 2021 after providing guidance and training for staff.
Over 300 teachers who did not already use a Learning Management System (LMS) were trained on Friday, March 13, 2020 before the governor’s announcement in anticipation of the changes.
We had a homework hotspot (cellular data) program with around 800 students assigned mobile hotspots (600 of which were assigned to high school students) with limited LTE data plans.
Today we have 2800 homework hotspots with the majority now having unlimited high speed data plans. We quickly learned that limited data plans did not support multiple Zoom or Google Meet sessions per day. We also learned that several areas in the county did not have adequate cellular coverage to support homework hotspots. Key areas are Broad River, Sandy Mush and certain areas of Fairview, but there are smaller pockets without cellular coverage throughout the county (e.g. areas in the Leicester area and even within the Asheville city limits).
We identified between 50 and 100 families that had essentially no access to wired or wireless high speed broadband. BCS partnered with Skyrunner and Charter to connect approximately 15 families, but unfortunately the majority of these 50-100 families did not have line of sight to a Skyrunner tower or did not live close enough to a Charter fiber line to get service. Some of these families leverage Wi-Fi at places like our Public Libraries, Broad River Fire Department or Sandy Mush Community Center, as well some travel to family and friends for Wi-Fi.
We did work with the Buncombe County Local Government to gain permission for Skyrunner to place equipment on the Broad River tower. Buncombe County Local Government in partnership with the ACS & BCS Foundation and the Housing Authority are partnering with Skyrunner to provide free Wi-Fi to each HA residence.
One key takeaway was that current satellite Internet options are less than ideal in terms of speed and latency to support virtual instruction.
We also increased staffing for our Technology Help Desk to accommodate a significant increase in support requests and provide support in English and Spanish. We provided custom training to all instructional staff including Best Practices for Remote Learning and specific Learning Management System courses for Seesaw (K-2), Google Classroom and Canvas.
Digital Learning in partnership with Curriculum, Student Services and Special Services created a Remote Learning Guide for teachers. This guide was based on data from the Friday Institute and adapted for our school system. It is continually updated as we learn more about remote learning. Digital Learning created a Virtual Days website for parents, students, teachers and staff to support remote learning. Our BCS Virtual Academy was expanded to accommodate new applicants. Digital Learning created online tutorials and professional development (BCS Digital Learning YouTube Channel) and Language Services translated tutorials into Spanish and Russian. Teachers were required to complete remote learning and LMS training at the beginning of this school year. Weekly optional live virtual trainings are available and recordings are posted on our YouTube channel. Continuing education credits are given for the trainings.
We have learned a great deal due to this unprecedented pandemic. One thing is for sure, our staff and students are resilient and they have, for the most part, adapted to online learning during this challenging time while also becoming more technologically savvy.
Barry Pace, Director of Technology, Buncombe County Schools
As an instructor at Asheville-Buncombe Community College Continuing Education, I see students mostly in the 50+ demographic who don’t have technology support readily available to them. During this week’s Apple iPhone class at the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Ferguson Workforce Building; students shared stories and I answered several questions related to broadband.
iPhone is Cellular-Data Dependent
The smallest computer that most of us own is a smartphone. It depends on broadband to connect to cloud-based services; including location-sharing features such as weather forecasts and timing information. Our mobility with the smartphone requires data from cellular towers, as pictured.
These cell towers require infrastructure including electricity and fiber optic cables to connect to internet servers. Although cellular data provides internet connectivity, usually at slower speeds than a home or business wired terrestrial broadband connections; with the topography of Western North Carolina, can wireless services provide more digital inclusion?
WiFi Smartphone Connections
With mobility comes the awareness that a user’s cellular data plan is expensive and can have data caps. Additionally, ‘unlimited data plans’ usually have data-throttle thresholds where cellular connectivity speeds are lowered. Thus a mobile device user is attracted to ‘free WiFi.’ Speed testing a ‘free WiFi’ location will also give you a indicator of how fast data is exchanged at the location, thus making a pleasant or not-so pleasant experience.
Free WiFi Pros / Cons
Security and privacy become pro & con considerations where ‘free WiFi’ is located.
Is the available network valid? Don’t trust just the name of the network. Ask an employee.
Public networks may provide opportunities for data details to be captured. As a general rule DO NOT use ‘free WiFi’ for financial or other personally sensitive information. Consider using a Virtual Private Network or VPN.
How reliable is the network? Is there trusted Information Technology staff maintaining the network?
Advertisements may be presented to you in exchange for the free service.
Generally lower broadband speeds can be expected.
Advocating Broadband for WNC
The Western Carolina Broadband leadership team is here to advocate for ‘future-proof’ broadband investments.
Please email the WNCBP team with questions or comments.
Individuals that can afford internet are likely to have terrestrial (land) or fixed wireless internet access at home or at public locations. Internet access can also be acquired using a smartphone when the personal hotspot option is turned-on.
Holiday travels and sometimes the need for faster internet maybe available using a smartphone’s hotspot feature. Also, in Western North Carolina with winter weather potential of wind, snow, ice; understanding how to use a smartphone hotspot can an provide internet connectivity alternative provided the smartphone has data time available through the mobile phone provider. Cellular data speeds are dependent on the the proximity of a cellular tower and the network traffic.
With the majority of smartphones run either an Apple iOS or Google Android, how do you use a smartphone’s personal hotspot feature?
Consider a practice session and running a speed test to see how it compares to your home’s service. Again, be aware of your cellular providers limitations of usage as they vary by provider and the level of plan that you are using.
When you take an internet speed test you are provided with 1) Upload, 2) Download, and 3) Latency/Ping data speed information.
Children at home that connect to schools, play games in the cloud, video share via cell phones; and, home workers that have files to upload and video conferences; these are upload uses of available broadband.
Additionally, Machine to Machine (M2M) is the data of connectivity for your home’s Internet-of-Things (IoT) connected devices. This upload data continues to consume growing upload bandwidth with our devices.
But did you know the Federal Communications Commission and many ISPs did not anticipate the significant degree of bandwidth use and upload speeds necessary for these our current COVID environment?
The Western North Carolina Broadband Project Team continues to advocate for improving high speed internet. Current FCC broadband standards of 25Mbs down and 3Mbs up will not sustain our future of economic growth and education.
Wikipedia says 5G is the 5th generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current smartphones.
Our future will see the growth of 5G small cells that are lower to the ground and will cover smaller areas. Thus rural America will see less of 5G and it will take longer to be able to leverage 5G benefits.
Wireless technology is the ability to communicate between two or more entities without the use of wires or cables. Encyclopedia indicates “wireless technology involves transmitting electromagnetic signals over the air. Interference and obstacles that block RF signals are common problems with wireless technology. Wireless technology allows users to communicate simultaneously over the same medium without their signals interfering with one another.”
With 5G wireless stations reaching >20 times more of the workload of the predecessors and beamforming for signals directed to the receiver; 5G will provide full duplex abilities to speak and listen with much greater efficiency allowing expansion and acceleration; provided volumes of 5G networks are available.
Additionally 5G will reduce latency, handle large digital transfers, and provide for security. As Ryan Spence indicates in the LinkedIn Learning module noted below, the value of 5G is not a new wireless technology, but as a ‘change agent’ for what it will enable in our futures.
Additionally, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) has taken actions to make additional wireless high, mid, and low spectrum and unlicensed bands available with the ‘5G FAST Plan.’ Included with this plans is the modernizing of regulations including one-touch make ready, IP transition, business data, and supply chain regulations. 5G product manufacturers are also building the hardware and security solutions for smartphones, Internet of Things, and home WiFi. And, unlike current WiFi systems, 5G WiFi can associate with unlimited devices.
5G in WNC
5G will likely have the greatest impact in the fabric of IoT, AR/VR, and AI. In Western North Carolina, industries including manufacturing (example – jet engines), retail (example – Amazon logistics), transportation (examples – Uber, Lyft, city/state municipalities), utilities (example – French Broad Electric Coop), and entertainment (example Asheville’s music scene) could be some of the forerunners of the future of 5G. A future of 3D models for real estate will be possible. Healthcare with tremendous amount of information exchanged is yet another evolution. Your home’s grocery stock will be efficiently stocked through IoT.
Boosting your Wi-Fi signal is a multi-pronged approach.
Here are six ways you can boost your Wi-Fi signal to receive better Wi-Fi speeds:
1 – Upgrade your router to 802.11ac or 802.11ax 2 – Move your router to boost Wi-Fi signal 3 – Switch to wireless mesh for greater Wi-Fi signal coverage 4 – Upgrade your Wi-Fi receivers and antennas 5 – Use a Wi-Fi extender (AKA repeater) 6 – Make a DIY Wi-Fi antenna booster