Montgomery County rolling out school buses as WiFi hotspots

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) Montgomery County students will have more internet access at home thanks to state approval that just came in to make school buses WiFi hotspots.

Montgomery County will be the first district in Virginia to do this.

School buses will no longer park at schools overnight. They'll be left in areas around the county and emit a wireless internet signal.

Montgomery County Public Schools Brenda Drake explained, "Students who are within a certain mile radius of that bus will be able to instantly connect to the WiFi being delivered from that bus."

This is important because those living in rural areas don't have access to WiFi.

Sarah Morris works for MCPS and lives in the Bethel area of Montgomery County

She said, "There's apparently not enough houses where I live in order to make it worth it for the companies."

Another employee Kathy Wilson who lives in Riner said of her situation, "I just think we're too far off the main road. Our driveway is like 8/10 of a mile long so they said that they can't do it."

And these areas have plenty of kids, so students can't do their homework electronically.

Wilson said, "I work with students who don't have internet at home and everything's Google Classroom or online and they don't have access and they can't work on scholarships or apply to colleges."

Morris added, "Between 1/3 and 1/2 of my students in my classes don't have internet at home."

Morris also houses an exchange student who could use internet to video chat with her family.

"FaceTime uses data and our bill last month was $700," she said.

The first bus will be put somewhere in Shawsville by the end of this school year.

"We surveyed students across the county about internet availability where they live and that was how we pinpointed where we were going to place our first bus," Drake said.

But there will be more as the county plans to make their whole fleet WiFi hotspots.

Drake explained, "Every new bus purchased by the school division starting next year will be a WiFi on Wheels bus, but right now we're retrofitting old buses."

Drake also said the school is still testing hotspot technology now to get the widest range of internet possible. But the first bus will definitely be rolling out before this school year is done.