Spearheaded by CitySquare Paris, the installation of Mesh WiFi technology in west Paris may soon bring internet capabilities to roughly 400 Paris ISD students with plans to include the rest of the district’s underserved students in the near future.
A prototype should be up and running in the next few weeks that will cover about a square mile near CitySquare Paris on Bonham Street and the Justiss Elementary area near 19th Street NE, according to Rob Spencer, CitySquare board member and pastor of First United Methodist Church.
“We received a $25,000 grant from the Texas Methodist Foundation, and have since added several initial partners including Oncor Electric, Liberty National Bank, Josh and Beth Bray and Jay and Rochelle Hodge.
If the prototype proves successful, plans are to expand the network to about five square miles, which is expected to cover the majority of families in Paris ISD that may not have access to the internet.
With assistance from Paris ISD, the group studied the density of student homes with poor or nonexistent internet service to determine where to place hardware, according to telecommunication guru Alex Kozel.
Kozel said it takes about six to eight gateways, internet access points, and roughly 16 nodes, or repeater radio, units to cover a square-mile area. Nodes will be installed on Oncor Electric poles.
“We are just happy we can provide this service,” Oncor area manager Larry Willis said. “We are proud to be a part of this program, and hope it will do great things for this community.”
Spencer could not praise Oncor enough, noting that a similar effort in Houston could not get access to electric poles, and workers had to mount nodes on individual houses.
It was the Houston project by the Technology For All organization supported by Rice University that Kozel and Spencer contacted to gain information about how Paris might implement a similar project.
Paris ISD Superintendent Paul Jones said the project is much appreciated.
“It is a cost effective way for us to provide long term internet service for students who otherwise would not be able to have it,” Jones said, explaining recent state funds helped to provide 1,000 Chromebooks and 500 AT&T hot spots. However, the district must pay monthly fees on the hot spots.
“Moving forward, having internet capabilities long term will allow teachers to use more online curriculum and for homework assignments,” Jones said. “Before Covid, the lack of internet for a large number of our students was a concern, (because) now internet connectivity is as vital as electricity and water.”
CitySquare Paris board chairman Maggie Kerby reiterated the need for online connectivity.
“Our goal is to fight poverty,” Kerby said. “That is such a tremendous undertaking that it takes on all sorts of different projects. Eight months ago, WiFi was not on our radar at all; but then came Covid, and we see a need by all these students at PISD who don’t have internet access or computers, and are expected to learn the same way as other students.”