Connecting the unconnected

Robert Johnson, Head of Customer Unit Regional Carriers discusses how Ericsson is working with Vermont Telephone Company to help connect students in Vermont during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VTel and Ericsson connects students in Vermont

Head of Customer Unit Regional Carriers

Head of Customer Unit Regional Carriers

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As with many Americans right now, I’ve got a pretty full house. Not only I am working from home, but our local school has cancelled in-person classes for the rest of the year, so my two teenage sons are both home and are attending virtual school classes. Fortunately, we live in an area that provides consistent high-speed Internet access services so my sons can get online for video classes and lessons.

But what about some of the areas that don’t currently have the levels of bandwidth required to attend virtual school? A lot of those kids are in disadvantaged areas, and without help they may fall behind academically.

This hits me especially hard, not just because I’m a father who wants to see his kids be successful in life, but also because I’m also responsible for the Regional Carriers Customer Unit (RC) at Ericsson North America. Our mission at RC is to tell help our customers connect the unconnected, which can be challenging under normal circumstances but is especially important in these unfamiliar times. Our customers are smaller, they have limited budgets and resources, yet their customers need effective communications as much, if not more than people living in more urban areas. This means we at RC must be creative in how we help our customers solve the myriad of issues they face. And we are always looking for ways to up our game to help out the people who need it most.

This especially came about recently when one of the members of our community, Vermont Telephone (VTel) reached out to us to help them bring broadband services to the kids who attend Rutland High School in Rutland Vermont. Seeing that the COVID-19 lockdown was going potentially impact Rutland, Patricia Aigner, the Director of Technology for Rutland City Public Schools, began looking for ways to make sure her students could remain connected even at home. This was especially challenging for Rutland High School students because many of the families in the city do not have sufficient broadband connectivity. She reached out to Vermont Telephone for help and that’s when Vermont Telephone reached out to us.

Vermont Telephone knew that the fastest way to bring connectivity to the families of Rutland was by providing fixed wireless broadband service. Because it doesn’t require digging trenches or connecting lines, that type of service is much more rapid to put in place than traditional wired or fiber-based technologies. However, even though it is more rapid to put in place, even fixed wireless broadband can’t be put in place instantly. Usually, it takes weeks, if not months, to put in a working network. However, these are not usual times. The community needed us desperately, and both Vermont Telephone and Ericsson responded in kind.

Ericsson expedited the delivery and installation of next-generation 4G/5G wireless radios and antennas on a building in downtown Rutland. Vermont Telephone, and its sister company VTel wireless delivered wireless modems and routers to homes, allowing students to receive free Internet service immediately. And Rutland City Public Schools is delivering Google Chromebooks to students during breakfast and lunch deliveries currently through school bus routes for efficiency and those lacking in transportation. Students’ Chromebooks will automatically connect to the Internet when they are turned on.

All of this happened not in weeks or months, but in less than ten days. To me this exemplifies the best of the human spirit in difficult times. It is people coming together as a community, solving problems to help students learn and future generations thrive. When this crisis is over and we all return to our normal lives, the things that I will take with me will not be the empty grocery shelves left by hoarders. It will be the image of the hardworking people at Vermont Telephone, Rutland City Public Schools and Ericsson putting in long hours to do what’s best for our kids.

As Dr. Michel Guité, founder of Vermont Telephone Company, said: “We’re all seeing the same grim news, leaving some to feel even hopelessness. But in Vermont we are deeply optimistic that American ingenuity and determination will help alleviate some of the burdens brought forth by this COVID-19 pandemic.”

At Ericsson we agree, we’re proud to partner with our operator customer’s communities to bring connectivity to rural America and connect the unconnected.

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