Schools need more broadband – could Mobile Citizen offer a solution?


Sometimes email is just a firehouse of information coming in too fast – but sometimes serendipity groups items in your inbox in a way that makes it too tough to ignore. Today I got an email from Ann Higgins on an article from Broadcasting & Cable (Internet-Dependent Teachers Running Into Streaming Troubles) about how teachers are using broadband, but are running into capacity barriers. Here are some snippets from the article…

According to the eighth such study conducted by PBS in conjunction with Grunwald Associates, more than half of the K-12 teachers (60%) frequently use digital media in classroom instruction. … More than three-quarters of the teachers (75%) said they sometimes had problems streaming video, with a quarter saying they did often or all the time, vs. only 4% who said they rarely if ever did.

“Problems with streaming video include skipping, pausing or constant buffering, indicating that computing devices or technology infrastructure, or both, do not yet have the capacity to handle teachers’ increasingly Internet-dependent instructional activity.

The good news is that we built it (the network) and they came (the teachers). The opportunity is that we need to build it a little better. So funny enough, my very next email talked about an opportunity for better mobile broadband for nonprofits and schools. (Unfortunately this appears to be primarily a metro-focused solution.)

TECHdotMN’s Peter Elwell recently wrote about Mobile Citizen, a mobile provider that “exists to deliver service exclusively to the most under-served areas of our society that often have limited access (at best) to the mobile web: schools and nonprofits”. Apparently they are looking for potential partners in the Twin Cities area.

According to TECHdotMN…

Founded in the mid-1980’s by five nonprofit foundations to transmit educational videos in schools across the country, these organizations collectively provide services via Educational Broadband Spectrum (EBS) under the Mobile Citizen brand. In 2006, Mobile Citizen entered into an unique excess capacity agreement with Clearwire Corporation (known as CLEAR locally) which allows for expanded offerings – specifically affordable access to CLEAR’s 4G WiMAX network for local groups in the nonprofit and educational space.

Under the arrangement, Mobile Citizen provides unlimited 4G mobile broadband to customers at rates 50-75% less than retail. Current pricing is established at $10/month for 12 months of service with an $89 USB modem, a $99 traditional modem, or $129 “CLEAR Spot” which can connect up to eight WiFi devices.

TECHdotMN reports further that Mobile Citizen is looking for local partners (again in the Twin Cities)…

Throughout the year, Mobile Citizen will be rolling-out the service with select Minnesota partners who fit the qualifying criteria and show interest in promising scalable strategies for fostering nationwide digital inclusion. More information can be obtained by contacting the organization directly.

I’d encourage folks who qualify to look into the details.