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Drone-Based Broadband Expansion Pilot Project Set to Take Off in the Northwoods

Drone flying over the Northwoods

This month, a partnership designed to increase a rural Northwoods school district’s access to high-speed broadband internet is set to take off!

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the technology gaps in rural areas, as students and workers were suddenly tasked to complete their learning and work at home for extended periods of time. What’s more, many rural communities saw or expected an influx of new residents as both safety concerns of urban and suburban life and remote work opportunities drastically increased over the past year.

One such community that felt the pressure of supporting its growing community of remote learners is right here in Northwoods Wisconsin: the Northland Pines School District, in Vilas County. Up to 50% of students in the district have inadequate internet, and 10% have no access to the internet at home at all. Having received a $100,000 grant from Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Forest County Economic Development will be testing tethered drones from Wisconsin Telelift Inc. that will hover over 200 feet above the ground to expand the area’s existing cell service towers’ coverage. These drones can be in the air for six hours at a time and would be employed at designated hours and on snow days. Working with Heartland Business Systems, these hovering signal extenders will hook into Northland Pines School District’s network with firewalls to protect the safety of student internet users.

Wisconsin Telelift designed the system to be portable and quick and easy to set up, allowing the school district to move the platforms to various locations, as needed, and help determine where to potentially invest in permanent broadband infrastructure.

This pilot project, set to begin in March 2021 will not only help improve Northland Pines School District’s access to the internet. It will also be instrumental in the development of similar systems that are replicable in other school districts and communities.

For more information about this exciting pilot program, visit https://wisclift.com/portfolio/npsd/.

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