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New initiative will connect Cedar Falls students who don't have home internet

New initiative will connect Cedar Falls students who don't have home internet

CEDAR FALLS — Chromebooks issued to Cedar Falls Community Schools’ secondary students ensure equal access to a computer for everyone.

Without internet services at home, though, some have been unable to make full use of the devices to complete their school work. Cedar Falls Utilities will soon roll out a new low-cost internet service option designed for those families called Connect CF.

“We’ve worked closely with the school district on this,” said Steve Bernard, CFU general manager. “We think there are about 100 (families) that will qualify for this.”

That is the number of families in the CFU service area with a seventh- through 12th-grade student who qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches and haven’t subscribed to internet services from the company within the past 60 days.

“The need has been there,” said Dan Conrad, director of secondary education, since the district began providing a Chromebook for every junior high and high school student in 2014. “For some reason, they don’t have the financial means (to pay for internet service). This was a way we could partner with CFU to provide limited access at home.”

The company has developed “kind of a new internet product,” said Bernard, that can be accessed only by the school-issued Chromebooks. “We looked at this carefully to make it not a subsidized service.”

The 15 megabits per second internet service will cost $20 per month and be available during the school year. Internet service costs $45 per month for regular customers who also have cable TV through CFU, he noted, or $60 per month for those who don’t.

“We’re actually going to start connecting students to this later this spring,” said Bernard. “We think it’s a pretty neat program. We’re pretty excited to be a part of this.

“Online learning and access is a huge deal,” he added. “Bottom line is we want to help remove barriers so students will have access.”

Conrad praised the company’s involvement in Connect CF.

“I have to give a lot of credit to CFU,” he said. “They have invested a lot of their own time and resources to make this happen.”

In the meantime, an effort is underway to raise money to further offset the cost for participants. A half-dozen students enrolled in Cedar Falls High School’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies is leading the charge. Their goal is to reduce the actual cost for participants to $5 per month, which would equal $18,000 per year if everyone signs up.

“Our first round of contacts have been targeted to businesses,” said Ethan Wiechmann, CAPS lead instructor. The amount of reduction depends on how close students get to the fundraising goal. Essentially, each $6,000 raised will drop the cost $5 for each of the 100 families.

“For every $180, we will provide one family affordable internet access,” he said, over the course of a school year. “We want to campaign this year to sustain it for at least three years.”

Fundraising for this is a good fit with CAPS, said Wiechmann. “One of our standards that we evaluate our associates on is servant leadership,” he explained. In addition, this allows for some “professional skills development” as they organize the fundraising campaign and hone their presentation skills.

“We’re just really excited to be a part of a neat initiative that’s going to have a real impact on our community,” said Wiechmann.

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