Return to Headlines

Asheville City Schools Partnering With Community Supporters to Bridge the Digital Divide

Asheville City Schools is expanding internet infrastructure beyond its current buildings and into the community. 

     In fact, thanks to a new partnership between the district, the Asheville City Schools Foundation, Buncombe County Government, the City of Asheville and the Asheville Housing Authority, the first group of families in Asheville Housing’s Southside Community near the Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center could have wireless internet access before the end of 2020.  

     The Southside Community will be the first of the Housing Authority’s five family developments to receive infrastructure.  However, upon the project’s completion, all 1,039 apartments across the Southside Community, Deaverview Apartments, Hillcrest Apartments, Klondyke Homes and Pisgah View Apartments will have internet access at no cost to residents.  

       The purpose behind the collaboration is to help close the digital divide, ensuring students have reliable connectivity both now and following remote learning.     

     “I know this has been a goal for many people across our community for several years. COVID-19 has simply afforded us with building the right coalition of motivated people,” said Dr. Gene Freeman, Asheville City Schools’ Superintendent.  “The global pandemic has brought to light actions that need to be taken and shown us why now is the time.  I believe that with steps like these, we’re moving in the right direction and putting our community’s needs above politics.”

     In order to do just that, Asheville City Schools began soliciting for community partners in early September. 

   As part of their commitment, Asheville Housing Authority issued a request for proposals, and on October 19, 2020, Skyrunner, an Asheville-based wireless and fiber broadband internet company, was preliminarily selected after offering the winning bid.  Coming in at $520,000, their proposal not only includes wireless infrastructure across the five family developments but also four years’ worth of ongoing services charges.  

     Buncombe County Government has pledged $100,000 in Coronavirus Relief Money to support the project’s initial infrastructure stage.  

      “With the onset of COVID-19, communities across the country grappled with how to connect students to their learning,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman. “With this partnership, we’ll be able to bring a sustainable and viable solution to our community that narrows the digital divide, promotes equitable learning outcomes and provides access for all.”

     Similarly, the City of Asheville has earmarked $50,000. 

     “By supporting this effort, Asheville City Council hopes to remove barriers to learning opportunities and put tools in residents’ hands to lead more connected, empowered lives,” said Asheville Mayor Esther Manhimer.  “Whether it’s scheduling a medical appointment or turning in a homework assignment, this WiFi service will enhance opportunities and help promote equal access to education and information.” 

      Working in collaboration, both the Asheville City Schools Foundation and the district have guaranteed funds to ensure sustainability of services at a cost of $72,000 each year for the next four years.  

     “I applaud our district and community partners for finally showing our community what EQUITY IN ACTION looks like,” said Shaunda Sandford, Chair of the Asheville City Board of Education and Director of Resident Services for the Asheville Housing Authority.  “Providing access to the internet in our housing neighborhoods will positively impact all the children and families in the communities that are often overlooked and/or excluded. I'd like to thank Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell and the City of Asheville, Buncombe County Government and the Asheville City Schools Foundation for coming together to make this possible.”

     The partnership is currently seeking additional allies to offset further costs, but Asheville City Schools pledges to make up any differences to ensure the project’s completion and sustainability.    

     Regardless of whether a resident is working on a remote assignment, applying for a job or participating in telehealth, the project’s ultimate goal is to close the chasm between those who can easily access broadband internet and those who cannot.  

     “The key to surviving, the key to staying connected is the internet” said Freeman.  “I know internet access won’t instantaneously close the opportunity gap, but we can’t close the opportunity gap without it.  This is a step in the right direction.  This is an example of actions finally matching our words.”