WiFi and Satellite Brings Internet to rural students
By Eric Lin, Tue Sep 30 21:00:00 GMT 2003

Instead of Beaufort Community College students traveling to the computers, the computers and internet access comes to them.

Mobile technology is providing a novel solution to a distinctly American problem. In a country so vast and so rural, how do you provide residents with computers and internet access to learn new skills and better themselves? Many of the students cannot afford to own computers, and even if they could, most live in rural areas with no local internet access and certainly no broadband. Beaufort County Community College in rural North Carolina used to require students to drive to a wired campus lab to take any computer related courses. Now the lab drives to them.

A van packed with a satellite internet connection and a Wi-Fi base station is parked next to buildings which serve as classrooms in the various townships served by the College. Students are each provided a laptop with a Wi-Fi card so they can access the internet through the van's satellite connection. This saves a number of students long trips to campus to learn about Windows, Microsoft Office or the internet.

Students who do not take computer classes still have to travel to campus. Which raises the question, how can labs like this be set up to enable all students access to their coursework and their professors without traveling to a central campus. The van idea could easily be translated into local centers with a satellite internet connection and workstations. The course work and teaching could then relayed over the internet connection. Today MIT launched its free online course ware. 500 classes in 33 fields that can be accessed around the globe. Throw in some webcasts and group video conferences with the community college, or even the big name institution's professors and affordable distance learning finally becomes reality.