New program will provide wireless internet access to thousands of students

Birmingham, AL - The Jefferson County Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that will provide free wireless internet access to thousands of students.

JEFCOED is contracting with Wi-Fiber Inc. to provide access in the Oak Grove, Mortimer Jordan, Minor, Corner, Clay-Chalkville, and Center Point feeder patterns.

The project will extend the district’s network from the high schools in those areas approximately 10 square miles.  Any JEFCOED student within range will be able to access the school’s wifi from their home or other remote location.

“During the pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about the digital divide when it comes to educating our students.  To build a lasting bridge, we cannot stop with just providing devices.  We also have to make sure every student has reliable internet access so that those devices are useful outside of our schools,”  said Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools.   

Some of the areas targeted are parts of the county where internet access is not currently available.  

“We have areas where landline service is not an option and where hotspots simply won’t work. We had to get creative about how to best serve those students, and that’s when we turned to our community partners for help,” said Gonsoulin.

The Jefferson County Commission voted to give 4.6 million dollars in Coronavirus Relief Funding to JEFCOED.  That amount will cover the installation and initial operating costs.

“We at the County Commission are committed to providing equal opportunities to all students in Jefferson County relating to internet access and its ability to affect the learning process.  We are pleased to provide this funding to improve the education of our students,” said Jimmie Stephens, Jefferson County Commission President.

This Covid-19 Pandemic has allowed the Jefferson County Commission in partnership with the Jefferson County Schools to address the long overdue problem of the lack of high speed internet throughout Jefferson County. Thanks to our $115 million CARES Act funding, we are able to bring WiFi to six of the County Schools most needed areas. This is just the beginning,” said Shelia Tyson, Jefferson County Commissioner for District 2, who has been instrumental in moving this project forward.

Alabama Power will provide utility pole space at no cost.  This will allow the district to extend the aerial network.  The CARES act money given by the county will be spent immediately and will result in students having wifi access.  They will start using it consistently by the start of the second semester.

“We cannot thank Alabama Power and the County Commission enough.  Their investment is an investment in our students’ futures.  It’s so humbling to see what can be accomplished with a shared spirit of determination and cooperation,” said Gonsoulin.  “If this venture is successful like we think it will be, we hope to one day be able to take it district-wide.”