By Bob Fowler, Roane State staff writer
Roane State Community College played a crucial role in an experiment to get high-speed Internet to rural communities currently lacking what’s become an essential component of modern life.
It’s an effort to bridge the digital divide in Roane County, where about 30 percent of households lack access to robust, affordable broadband internet.
That includes some 6,000 students who must have internet access for online learning.
Internet access “is paramount in current situations such as COVID-19 and the remote learning requirements it presents,” said Egon Hillermann. He’s the director of ROANEnet, an organization that advocates for improving high-speed internet access.
Roane State provided high-speed Internet access, electrical power, and a transmission tower at its flagship campus in Roane County for the project. Staff members with the college’s Information Technology Department also assisted with the project, Hillermann said.
The experiment on February 12 targeted two nearby Roane County communities—College Grove and Post Oak Springs—where mobile Wi-Fi networks were put in place.
A multidisciplinary senior design team of electrical, mechanical, industrial, systems, supply chain, and business students from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville had been working for months to put the test in place.
On test day, the crew installed a wireless transmitter about 45 feet up the transmission tower at Roane State’s Physical Plant to transmit wireless signals to remote towers and eventually to two wireless mesh networks covering the target neighborhoods.
Once the system was in action, the students went out into the two communities to measure the strength, robustness, latency, and loading of the Internet signal broadcast from the tower.
“It was a real pleasure to again work with academia and students from a multidisciplinary integrated senior design team to take their project into the field and help implement and test it in real life situations, which ultimately could also benefit our communities in rural Roane County,” Hillermann said.
Additional updates on the status of the project will be provided at a later date. Any RSCC students who lack access to reliable internet at home can email [email protected] for information about technology resources and possible assistance.