Jennings County School Corporation (JCSC), Ind., and the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations (IPBS) are partnering to expand distance learning to 1,200 students who have little or no access to reliable broadband.

As part of the partnership, IPBS will provide datacasting technology, which overcomes the lack of internet access by sending computer-based files over a television broadcast signal. Jennings County, which is a predominantly rural county in southeastern Indiana, has a large number of students without Internet access.

To fund the project, the school district is using a $1.38 million grant awarded through Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency education relief program (GEER Fund). The GEER fund was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) for the purpose of developing and improving the availability of remote learning techniques and technologies.

“We are delighted to be among the first school districts in the nation to use educational datacasting,” said JCSC Superintendent Teresa Brown. “When the pandemic hit, we knew we needed a sustainable cost-effective solution to enable remote learning in the areas of our county where internet connections are challenging, and datacasting was the answer.”

IPBS member-station WTIU in Bloomington will carry out the implementation. With the GEER funding, JCSC and IPBS will be able to purchase the equipment needed to stand up datacasting at the WTIU stations, as well as purchase simple receivers and antennas for households that will pick up the signal and relay it to Chromebooks and tablets over Wi-Fi.

“The datacasting implementation in Jennings County will serve as a proof-of-concept that can be replicated in counties and school districts across Indiana,” according to Mark Newman, IPBS executive director. “It can be a game-changing technology for areas of the state where broadband is limited or unavailable.”

The initiative will be ramped up over the next two months. Officials anticipate having datacasting available for household use in early November.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs