Facebook launches new plan to give students free WiFi

Pilot program is launching first test in Forest City, North Carolina

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
July 15, 2014
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Mark Zuckerberg has made it Facebook's top priority to connect everyone in the world to the Internet, with its initiative. It's a worthy goal, no doubt, and one that can have major long-term benefits to those countries that currently have low access.

At the same time, though, I can't help but also think of the people who live here, in the United States, who also can't get access to the Internet. Those people need help also, especially students. 

Well, it looks like Facebook has also set its sights on Americans who need help as well, as it has launched new program to help struggling regions get free internet, it was announced on Tuesday.

The pilot program is launching its first test in Forest City, North Carolina. Through the program, a small number of students in the neighborhood surrounding the Rutherford Opportunity Center will be provided free WiFi access.

The program, which does not seem to have a name at this point, is a partnership between Facebook, the Town of Forest City, Rutherford County Schools, and PANGAEA Internet.

So why Rutherford? I mean it seems like kind of a random choice, no? Well, first off, there's a Facebook data center there, so that probably makes it a bit easier to provide the WiFi. And secondly, the Rutherford school system already has an initiative, called 1:1, which provides a laptop for every student in middle school or high school. Facebook wants to build on that program.

"More than 6,000 students have received a laptop so far through that program, but administration officials have found that nearly half of those students don’t have access to the Internet at home," Keven McCammon, site data center manager for the Facebook Forest City Data Center, wrote in a post. "Working together, we want to close that gap – we want all of our students to be able to take full advantage of the 1:1 program and use the Internet both at school and at home."

The program is obviously in its very early stages and the roll out will be slow: if the first test is successful, the next ones to get it will be... more children in the same school system. So, yeah, it make take a while before this gets to where yoy live.

Facebook is just getting started with its plan to provide students with WiFi, but it has been working on connecting the world for a lot longer.

The project was first announced in August of last year, with the stated goals of making access more affordable, making the use of data more efficient and helping businesses drive access. The end result of the project being that it would connect the next five billion people on the planet to the Internet.

Since then, Facebook has made a series of moves toward making that a reality.

In February, announced partnerships with Rwandan government, Nokia, edX and Airtel for a a pilot project called SocialEDU, which will help provide students in Rwanda with free access to a collaborative online education experience.

It also with teamed up with Ericsson to create the Innovation Lab, which will give developers the ability to test their apps in real world environments at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. And, lastly, it entered into a partnership with with Unilever, with the goal of bringing Internet access to the millions of people who live in rural India.

In March, it was also revealed that Facebook had started a Connectivity Lab, which the company was going to use build drones to help get the entire world online. With the drones, Facebook can give the Internet to the people. With Pryte, it can make it affordable.

Most recently, Facebook acquired Pryte, which was a yet to be released service that was was working on a way to give people a way to access specific apps in small packages even if they did not have a data plan. The idea was to make their Internet more affordable.

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