Oshkosh School District takes action to keep students connected


By Miles Maguire

By federal broadband standards, Oshkosh is not considered an unserved or underserved area. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t gaps in coverage that could have serious repercussions on the community.

Last year, the Oshkosh Region School District found that 5% of students did not have high-speed internet at home. “At that time, we noticed that some schools were as high as 11% while others were as low as 3%,” said Assistant Superintendent David Gundlach.

In its 2021 survey, the district found that it had narrowed the gap so that 98% of students had broadband. The improvement is the result of several factors, Gundlach said, including the deployment of nearly 500 mobile hotspots “to ensure that students can fully access their courses online.”

Other factors have contributed to the expansion of Internet service, including the willingness of providers to offer discounted rates and the recognition by families of the need to sign up for broadband to manage online learning.

“We are grateful that Oshkosh voters have been so supportive of bringing technology into our agenda,” Gundlach said. “Because of this forward thinking and support, Oshkosh was one of the few districts that had enough technology for all learners throughout the pandemic.”

The district can now report, school by school, the availability of the Internet, which has been linked to academic performance, even for students taking classes in person.

The latest survey showed that 99% of middle school students had access to the Internet at home. Home Internet is available to 97% of Oshkosh North high school students and 99% of Oshkosh West students.

The largest gap is at the elementary level, where five schools reported home access rates of 95% or less. These were Franklin, Lakeside, Oaklawn, Roosevelt and Washington.

The broadband gap among Oshkosh students may be due primarily to external factors such as financial limitations or individual decisions not to sign up for broadband service. But it is also possible that access is simply not available in some pockets of the district.

“It is often assumed that connectivity issues are limited to rural areas, but in my discussions with other large districts, it is clear that we also have underserved areas in urban settings,” Gundlach said.

“It’s usually in big cities like Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee,” he added. “While they most likely exist in Oshkosh, I don’t know of any specific areas that have this problem.”

He said a step towards expanding broadband across the country would be a new definition, which sets a minimum of 100 megabits per second.

“As the [Federal Communication Commission] only requires that a company provide the minimum speeds to receive federal funds, a new definition of broadband could ensure that taxpayer funds go to building better networks, ”said Gundlach.

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