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JSD supports AMHS high-speed internet

Gelbrich: Onboard Internet extends digital classroom

Posted: March 6, 2013 - 5:25pm  |  Updated: March 7, 2013 - 2:25am

While Alaska’s newest ferries may not come with a full roof for their car decks, their Wi-Fi-sporting passengers may find the vessels have excellent online coverage.

The Juneau School District Board of Education passed a resolution Tuesday to support the provision of high-speed wireless Internet on Alaska Marine Highway System ferries.

JSD Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said wireless online access while underway could make Alaska’s ferries an extension of the district’s more and more digitized classrooms.

“Obviously we have students that travel back and forth by ferry,” Gelbrich said, “where they spend a great deal of their time, including school time. It could help if the ferry is an actual extension of the classroom.”

Gelbrich said the resolution was in support of proposed bill that would legislate wireless Internet on AMHS ferries. He said the legislation may still be in the idea stage.

Sen. Dennis Egan D-Juneau asked about the addition of onboard wireless Internet access at the Joint House and Senate Transportation Committee meeting on Feb. 28. Egan is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. The committees met to hear a presentation from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on the proposed North Lynn Canal Ferry conceptual design.

Egan had heard from constituents that onboard Internet access is on their wish list, said Dana Owen, who is a staffer for the Senate Transportation Committee. Egan asked DOT if the new Alaska Class Ferry Day Boat would come Wi-Fi-ready.

“They have tried to do this in the past,” Owen said. “They are interested … but their priorities are to get the registration system up and running.”

After AMHS gets its booking system dialed in, any broadband left over would be available for Wi-Fi, Owen said.

However, “they also pointed out that it is very expensive,” Owen said. “Up to a half million dollars a year.”

JSD Board Member Barbara Thurston said she wondered about the priorities of the lawmakers in the Capitol.

“Of all of the things the Legislature could work on,” Thurston said.

Although she voted in favor of the resolution, Thurston said she had doubts about students studying online while underway.

“I wonder if there will be a net increase in school work done, or a net decrease in school work done,” Thurston said. “But I’m not going to oppose it.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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