SANDY, OR (KPTV) - Poor internet access in rural areas is nothing new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has proven what a problem it can be for students trying to learn entirely online.

The empty parking lot at Sandy Community Campus could get a lot busier once school starts in September. It’s just one of several places in Sandy, and other surrounding rural areas, where Oregon Trail School District students can connect to public WiFi.

“Some of these people have no other option, other than to just sit in their car and use the WiFi there,” said Greg Brewster.

Brewster is the General Manager for SandyNet, the city-run internet service provider.

He said once school stops for many kids in the area, so does their internet access. That’s why he frantically worked last spring to add wireless hotspots to different areas, so students living in more rural areas could still learn, even if that meant from a parking lot.

“They’re just kind of anywhere and everywhere we could’ve deployed them,” he said. “We went out and tried to accommodate as much as we could and the result was, we got through the school year.”

With a little more time to prepare, Brewster said the goal is to now add even more of the hotspots, as well as try and get internet to as many families as possible before fall.

“Some of the things we’re currently working on, finding a valid location to actually bring out a wireless signal,” he said. “So, before SandyNet was doing fiber optics, we were primarily wireless based and so we have a history of propping antennas on to towers, people’s homes, streetlights even, and kind of figuring out any way to get internet out to some of these smaller, underserved areas.”

“And so, we’re doing that once again here and we’re working with the county, actually, to be able to set new utility poles,” Brewster continued. “So that even after the pandemic is over, we’ve got a need satisfied here that we need to serve.”

But Brewster said for a lot of students, these hotspots are still the surest way to tap into fast internet.

“It’s still kind of an inconvenience to drive maybe ten miles to get to a free hotspot to get internet, however it’s better than the alternative, which might be nothing,” he said.

Brewster said SandyNet is also working quickly to roll out a rate assistance program for students and families who can get internet inside their homes.

Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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