Volusia School Board Contributes $2 Million to Expand Internet Access

Volusia School Board Contributes $2 Million to Expand Internet Access

DELAND — The Volusia County School Board has agreed to contribute $2 million to the county’s contract with Spectrum to expand broadband infrastructure in underserved and underserved areas of the region, which will support engagement in remote learning through the computer-based instruction.

The deal totals more than $17.6 million, with Volusia County contributing nearly $4.6 million and Spectrum responsible for the remaining $13 million that will provide high-speed Internet access to local homes.

“As we increasingly rely on broadband access for educational purposes, the more necessary it becomes to ensure that all of our students, regardless of where they live, have equal access to fast broadband availability,” said the member of the Carl Persis meeting on Wednesday morning. . “And not only access but be able to pay for it.”

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Volusia County’s contract with Spectrum was agreed to in July 2022, and the county used funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for its portion. The county will now apply the school district’s $2 million contribution to the contract, the agreement states.

The board unanimously approved the item on its consent agenda Tuesday night without discussion, though the agreement notes that the county and board believe broadband expansion is “in the best interest of the general public.”

Volusia County has more than 560,000 residents, according to the US Census Bureau, and about 64,000 students in the school district. Persis remembers discussing opportunities for broadband infrastructure expansion even before the pandemic, when internet access became vital for education.

According to the latest figures provided by the district, there are 663 students enrolled full-time in Volusia Online Learning, the district’s virtual learning option, and another 2,500 students enrolled part-time in addition to traditional students using the Internet for educational purposes.

Virtual enrollment numbers have remained high in the nearly three years since the start of the pandemic. Prior to that, the district had about 100 to 150 full-time online students enrolled in a typical year, The News-Journal reported in 2020.

In an increasingly virtual age, Persis said not providing Internet access to some students is like not providing them with textbooks: “We can’t do that.”

“I’m very excited about this because it’s been a long time process,” he said.

According to an email from county Activity Project Manager Clayton Jackson, broadband access is required for certain homes, while others are optional. Mandatory housing is anticipated to be completed within 18 months and optional housing within 36 months from the July 2022 contract start date.

The settlement covers homes at more than 3,700 addresses in Volusia County, including Astor, Daytona Beach, DeLand, DeLeon Springs, Deltona, Edgewater, Mims, New Smyrna Beach, Oak Hill, Osteen, Pierson, Port Orange and Seville, with the mostly in Pierson and northwestern Volusia County.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at djohnson@gannett.com.

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