Beaufort, South Carolina’s Coming Mesh Network

I'm concluding this series of posts from my work study with one more example of a community where a school system is partnering with city governments, business communities, and nonprofit organizations to "go big" in addressing digital equity. As we previously noted, digital equity is a community challenge, not solely one that can be solved by a school district. See one district's unique approach.

A very interesting strategy to address outside of school Internet access is underway in Beaufort County, South Carolina. Beaufort Schools' Superintendent Jeffrey Moss and Chief Instructional Services Officer Dereck Rhoads explained to me how they are working with their county government to create a “mesh network.”

What is a Mesh Network?

The goal of the school district is to create ubiquitous, outside of school access to the Internet. If you are like me, you may be wondering, what is a mesh network? According to Wikipedia:

A wireless mesh network (WMN) connects wireless access points installed at each network user's locale. Each network user is also a provider, forwarding data to the next node. The networking infrastructure is decentralized and simplified because each node need only transmit as far as the next. Wireless mesh networking could allow people living in remote areas and small businesses operating in rural neighborhoods to connect their networks together for affordable Internet connections.

Beaufort County is considering one of two options for providing connectivity to address the homework gap. The county is weighing the benefits and costs of each of the options, and a finalized decision for WMN in Beaufort County is planned for January 2016. The county effort is viewed as an economic development project.

Beaufort County sits on the coastline and is a tourist destination with Hilton Head, Point Royal, and other beautiful beaches nearby. The County and School District plan to provide free community Wi-Fi via the WMN and charge tourists for similar access. 

Some critics will say that WMN are a distraction to providing home gig-level access. I believe this is yet another option for addressing digital equity.

Stay tuned to see how this all plays out.