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Youngstown schools exploring free access to internet

YOUNGSTOWN — The city school district is looking at starting a community broadband project to provide free internet access for students and staff in designated areas within the district.

A meeting with city officials is set for this morning to discuss it.

The broadband system would give workers and students the ability to work remotely and provide connectivity to enhance the overall experience for the community, proponents say.

The district is working with Insight Enterprises, with an office in Cincinnati, in developing the project. Insight works with organizations of all sizes to help bring secure internet connectivity to bridge the digital divide in rural and historically underserved counties, cities and schools.

The company’s global headquarters is in Tempe, Arizona.

Insight’s Community Wireless Broadband solution creates a secure broadband network that is privately owned by a public body, such as a city or school district, that can be accessed by anyone with the provided Wi-Fi device living within the coverage area.

The hotspot-like device delivers a private, secure wireless connection to individuals’ homes, helping communities nationwide establish the infrastructure needed to make broadband internet accessible anywhere.

Insight has invited Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Youngstown Law Director Jeff Limbian, Nikki Posterli, the city’s community planning and economic development director, and others to a meeting at the board of education building at 20 W. Wood St.

Youngstown schools CEO Justin Jennings said he is looking at this project as a way to serve the needs of district students and staff members using some of the American Rescue Plan funds being provided by the federal government.

Jennings said this is in an early phase of development. The district, working with Insight, would have to get agreements with various entities to place the equipment on utility poles, water tanks, towers and other places needed to operate the hotspots around the city.

If approved, it is expected to take approximately nine months for the broadband network infrastructure to be installed.

Board of education President Ronald Shadd said the school board was not informed about the possible broadband project, nor was it invited to participate in today’s meeting.

“It may be premature to sign up to work with one company on a project like this since there is $65 billion in federal money expected to become available in the infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress and signed by the president,” Shadd said. “Was this put out to bid?”

Jennings has the authority from the state to contract with Insight without obtaining permission from the school board, which is working to regain local control over the district after years of academic distress and state oversight.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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