The COVID-19 pandemic upended studies for millions of students in the U.S. this spring, sending them home to continue their education through distance learning.
But in Mississippi, which trails the nation in broadband internet access, 30 percent of households lack the broadband internet needed to download or stream educational videos, participate in video calls with teachers or upload assignments.
Add to that situation an Easter outbreak of severe weather, which spawned devastating tornadoes across the state—including the widest tornado ever recorded in Mississippi at 2.25 miles wide—and the state’s digital divide grew into a chasm overnight.
One of those storms knocked out internet service in rural Simpson County where Emily Davis, class of 2020 valedictorian at Simpson Academy in Magee, and her sister Anna Verdecchia, a student at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, were both working to complete coursework so they could graduate.
With public locations that normally provide reliable high-speed WiFi internet closed under social distancing policies, students like Emily and Anna needed a solution, and fast. They found it at the C Spire retail store in Magee, one of 27 locations around the state where C Spire network engineers have deployed Pop-Up WiFi to help students continue their education during COVID-19.
“Since we’ve been in quarantine for the coronavirus, we’ve been riding around,” explained Anna. “We were riding in Magee and drove by the C Spire store and saw the signs, and we were like, ‘ooh, we could use WiFi here!’”
Emily, a graphic designer and visual artist who will attend William Carey University in the fall, said she needed broadband WiFi to download and watch videos her teachers created, as well as upload photography for another class. For one assignment, she couldn’t even get the questions to load.
“The fact that we could sit in our car here made it a whole lot easier,” Emily said.
Anna needed reliable broadband WiFi to finish her degree in early childhood education. She took her final exams right from the C Spire parking lot and has already started her first job in the field.
“If C Spire hadn’t done this,” Emily added, “we wouldn’t have had anywhere to go.”
To date, students have downloaded more than 2.556 TB of data and uploaded 1.099 TB through C Spire Pop-Up WiFi broadband access points around Mississippi.