When it comes to doing homework, high school students in homes without online access are at a disadvantage compared with peers with access. To cope, students without access will make do, completing their assignments away from home, whether in a public library or a business that offers free Wi-Fi.
Such episodes may not be common, but they're not unheard of in the Sequoia Union High School District, which includes Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools. Students have been parking themselves in coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, discount department stores and other such places to do their homework, district spokeswoman Ana Pulido said in a recent email.
With the start of the 2018-19 school year, the Sequoia district began offering free Wi-Fi at home, and some 105 families have taken them up on the offer. The Sequoia district is participating in the "1Million Project," a partnership between Sprint Corp. and high school districts around the country to provide free internet access at home.
The high school district began the school year with 200 wireless routers for households wanting to participate, Pulido said. Requests came from across the district, she said, adding that the district will look into obtaining more routers if demand for them continues.
The district has been determining eligibility based on how families responded to an optional question asked during an online registration process as to whether their home did or did not have internet access, Pulido said.
The 105 families that have qualified so far signed up within three days of the district's announcement of the program, she said. The district delivered the routers to the homes within 24 hours of the families' applying, and they were usable immediately, she said.
The 4G LTE service offered by Sprint has no monthly data cap, but high-speed access – up to or over 100 megabits per second – is available only for the first 3 gigabytes of data per month, after which the speed drops to 256 kilobits per second, Sprint spokeswoman Lisa Belot said.
It's not hard to hit that 3-gigabyte limit. Watching just one hour of Netflix, streaming video at a standard resolution, commonly uses up a gigabyte. "We recommend that students reserve video streaming for educational activities," Belot said in an email.
The wireless router installed in the home is equipped to block out adult content and malware, Belot said. "This filter is always on and cannot be disabled," she said. The device can handle up to five simultaneous connections, including tablet computers and smartphones, she said.
Households receive free access while students are in high school, for a maximum of four years, Belot said.