Teacher Uses GIS Tower Maps to Connect Rural Students With WiFi Hotspots

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Salamanca High School computer science teacher, Dr. Braham Hayes, used the concept of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coupled with tower location data to provide home internet for some students that lacked access, reported the NYS GIS Association. Hayes found that students living in rural areas, in particular, were caught in the digital divide.

“Salamanca High School provides a laptop for every student; however, I quickly learned that many students do not take them home,” said Hayes. “When I inquired why, I found that most rural students do not have access to broadband cable at their house, so the laptop’s usefulness to students in the home setting was greatly mitigated.”

According to Hayes, he used GIS to create a digital map, including various geographic layers, that “pinpointed which households needed internet assistance.” Hayes then utilized anonymous student data to “map the digital discrepancies that are common in rural school districts.” 

Hayes’ team utilized Esri’s ArcGIS software, a leading industry mapping, and spatial analytic software to sort through the data, according to the NYS GIS Association. Aaron Straus, Salamanca’s specialized science and technology program coordinator, said, “We downloaded 30m Digital Elevation Data (DEM) from the USDA Data Gateway data portal and cell tower data from ArcGIS Online. This allowed us to add an extra layer that displayed students’ houses in proximity to cell phone towers.”

Hayes added, “We then applied a 3D modeling technique within ArcGIS Spatial Analyst called viewshed analysis. This is a method where cell tower locations and heights were placed into the model along with the DEM data. The analysis created a data layer where each area on the map was tagged red or green based on whether that grid cell was visible from all surrounding cell towers.”

Hayes delivered the results of his analysis to Salamanca schools in April. District officials then supplied 90 Kajeet 4G WiFi hotspots to families that lacked internet service based on Hayes’ research.

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