The San Juan Daily Star
New internet access device can close digital divide for PR students
By John McPhaul
More than 250,000 Puerto Rican students will be able to close the digital divide that has left them without a reliable internet connection, with the acquisition of an internet router pod 100% funded by the federal government.
With the onset of online learning, the pocket-sized router gives students a reliable, safe and fast network connection. backed by a 24/7 support team in both English and Spanish.
The router pod was developed by Maple Inc. and Stratus X to help close the digital divide, especially for residents in low-income or rural communities, said Michael Kadisha, CEO of Maple.
The devices are entirely cloud-managed and are geo-located and can be shut down remotely at the touch of a button in case of loss or theft.
“The pod can get every single student access to the internet and is something Puerto Rico should take advantage of to its fullest,” Kadisha said.
Maple is operating the $7 billion program.
The Puerto Rico Department of Education applied for 188,024 hotspots but were approved for 100,000, according to Maple. There are a remaining 88,029 hotspots in need in Puerto Rico based on information provided on past applications.
The rise of online learning, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19, has created a universal need for reliable and remote connectivity solutions to address the “homework gap” in schools, Maple said on its homepage.
“That is why we have created a WiFi hotspot solution available to schools through the Federal E-Rate and Emergency Connectivity Fund Program,” the company said.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2020 that 93% of homes with school-aged children were participating in some form of remote learning. In addition, 80% of those learning resources were online (only 20% paper-based materials). Suddenly, the general public began to recognize the disparity around lack of access to the internet.
As schools have become more tech-savvy over the past decade, there have been concerns around the homework gap, with tales of students going to McDonald’s to access free internet to complete their homework assignments.
The application window opened April 28 and ended May 13, but there is a 30-day extension on the Federal Communications Commission application, Kadisha noted.
“We are a small family business,” he said. “We will finance the entire deal and get reimbursed by the federal government -- so no cost at all to schools.”