Special Report: Connection Problems
The coronavirus pandemic forced many of us to start working from home.
But to do that, we need reliable internet and that’s something not everyone in rural parts of northern Michigan has access to.
Remote learning has become a way of life for students at Baldwin Community Schools. The district made the decision to start the year remote and continue that until at least January.
That’s after finishing last year with remote learning as well.
“It’s difficult on families specifically, because most of these families have more than one child at home that’s trying to use the same Wi-Fi, so sometimes the Wi-Fi gets bogged down,” said Nathan Fricke, Behavior Interventionist, 504 Coordinator and Homeless Liaison for Baldwin Community Schools.
Those families include Michael Cavender’s. He’s a high school junior this year.
“Since I have five brothers, the internet slows down a lot like long wait times just sitting there, so yeah, that’s kind of difficult. It’s really hard to turn in assignments, and do work like that, and sometimes when I’m in meetings, I can barely hear the person because of how much of a lag there is,” said Cavender.
The district has done what they can to help relieve some of the problems caused by lagging internet, including purchasing Mi-Fi hotspot devices for families.
They say some 60 families told them they didn’t have access to reliable internet at home back in March.
“Growing up in this area and living here, I understand the frustration of the internet scarcity and looking at the list, it kind of hurts a little bit because you’re like, dang, these kids that your trying to make succeed, your trying to help get to college that you’re trying to help be successful, they’re not able to even begin their K-12 education and receive everything they need,” said Duane Roberts Jr, Promise Zone Coordinator for Baldwin Community Schools.
The need for high speed, especially when it comes to students, is part of what drives Larry Lewis. He’s spent nearly a decade working to expand high speed internet access in Lake County.
“That’s my goal, to have everybody in this country, whether it’s medicine, education, recreation to have access to the tools that are viable for the new super highway,” said Lewis.
Larry, along with Tom Stephenson, are part of the Lake County Broadband Initiative. They’re currently working to gather information from as many people as possible about internet needs to help develop a plan to move broadband expansion forward. 25 percent of people who responded to a 2015 study said they would live in lake county full time, if they had access to high speed internet.
“We’re looking at some public/private partnership, possibly with the service providers that are very aggressive. They’re looking to expand broadband in areas, so we’re trying to create a business case for that expansion,” said Stephenson.
Expansion that stands to be a game changer for Lake County.
“If Lake County can get high speed internet, we’ll create a number of jobs that will be greater than the number of jobs we have right now, it’s a job creator,” said Lewis.
And a game changer for students.
“So many kids and families that are at a disadvantage right now with the speed of the system, so if we were able to get something like that, I can almost guarantee that we’re going to see our participation levels go up from kids, our grades go up from kids,” said Fricke.