KyRon: Connecting Rural Kentucky, One Parking Lot at a Time
What do you do when the neighborhood gas station has a better wireless connection than the local community college? In parts of Kentucky, you turn your car into your personal computing center.
The Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS), the Kentucky Post-Secondary Education Network, and the Kentucky Regional Optical Network (KyRON) have banded together to provide a unique way for their communities to access the internet through their “parking lot initiative.”
Many parts of rural Kentucky do not have access to high-speed internet. In most of these areas, there is no Starbucks nearby, and even libraries may have a poor connection. Commercial providers often don’t reach these areas, leaving entire communities without access. Dr. Jay Box, KCTCS president, immediately saw the need for quality wireless internet after he embarked on a “roadshow” tour to gather community and student feedback.
The scope of KCTCS and its focus on rural communities make it uniquely positioned to provide a solution to the lack of high quality access in its communities. KCTCS serves more than 75,000 students through 16 colleges and more than 70 other locations throughout Kentucky. Campus buildings span as far east in the state as Ashland and as far west as Paducah. With a mission to improve the quality of life and employability of Kentucky’s citizens, KCTCS took the issue of expanding wireless internet services head on.
KCTCS invested over half a million dollars in refreshing and building out wireless infrastructure. As a result, there are now over 2,000 wireless access points connected via KyRON throughout the community college system. KCTCS focused on providing expanded internet access by creating an open guest wireless network that extends out into the parking lots of each of its locations.
The parking lot initiative has been a huge success for KCTCS, allowing it to expand capacity to serve its students and the local communities. Most students are working adults between the ages of 25-36, and, without home internet access, they need a place to study and interact with the curriculum tools. The parking lots were a perfect solution. Students and other community members come in after work or in the evenings to connect to the network to study, share music, apply for jobs, and register for healthcare. Several campuses also started a specific program designed to increase law enforcement presence on campus, reserving parking spaces for local police officers so that they can use the wireless access to complete and access reports from their vehicles.
A true part of the community, KCTCS offers its often underserved communities the incredibly valuable resource of connection. Kenneth Burdine, Associate Chief Information Officer for KCTCS emphasizes, “In everything we do, our mission is to improve the quality of life and employability of the citizens of the commonwealth.”
In a world where internet access is no longer just a want but truly a need, KCTCS provides a creative and effective solution by connecting rural Kentucky communities one parking lot at a time.