AUSTIN (KXAN) In an effort to provide internet access to students without WiFi, Austin Independent School District is working with the Austin City Council to install tall towers that would provide a private wireless network.

The district estimates about 30% of its students don’t have reliable high-speed internet.

District 1 councilwoman Natasha Harper-Madison believes this has created a digital divide in education.

“During the course of everybody working from home and schooling from home we really recognized just how much of a disparity there is,” she said.

For this reason, city leaders are working with AISD on Project Lighthouse.

By installing nine monopoles at campuses around town, would provide around 25,000 students with private internet access.

“I think broadband should be something that everybody in this city has access to,” Harper-Madison said. “Regardless of where you live.”

The monopole towers will be up to 120 feet in height and provide internet access within a one-mile radius of each campus.   

John Greiner is an information technology expert with Austin ISD.

“We’ll be providing them a private LTE-enabled device that they can connect that device to the antennas of that tower,” Greiner said.

In November 2021, the AISD Board of Trustees approved a partnership with Branch Communications, which will construct and maintain monopoles at no cost to the district or city.

In exchange, Branch will be allowed to utilize the tower to install equipment for mobile carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile, that wish to extend their cell coverage in the areas where the campuses are located.

“They’re going to pay the district for the use of the bottom part of the pole,” Greiner said. “Then we get to use the best part of the pole, which is the top of the pole to put our private LTE equipment that we’re going to provide.”

Access to the free WiFi connection will be limited to AISD students and their families.

Yet, the city manager still has to finalize a deal with the district and get Austin City Council’s approval.