Bridging the gap: Holly Pond to offer free public WiFi in parks as school resumes

From left to right: Riley Gillilan, Holly Pond Mayor Bill Oliver, Ashley Holmes, Jordan McDonald, Jason Mercer, and Hayden Rawdon (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – Students who need to do classwork online and don’t have reliable internet at home will have a place to do so, thanks to the Town of Holly Pond. At the last meeting of the Holly Pond Town Council, Mayor Bill Oliver was given permission to pursue a project that would provide free public WiFi in both of the town’s parks (the Lions Club ball park and the Dane Estes Memorial Park) As of Wednesday, Aug. 12, the project was less than a month from completion; however, if the supply chain ships the necessary parts quickly enough, students could make use of the service by the start of the school year.

When completed, the system will be able to support 200 connected devices in each park while still maintaining high-speed service. Additionally, service provider JTM Broadband will be able to analyze information about how many devices are connected and how long they stay connected in a given time frame to better estimate how the service may need to be adjusted.

“We’re putting in a top-of-the-line system,” said Jordan McDonald, co-CEO of JTM Broadband, LLC. “If you’re having to download a large file, you don’t have to sit there for an hour. It’ll be really quick. If you’ve got a bunch of devices or a lot of kids who need to get online, you’re not gonna slow this system down.”

Oliver said the project was something he had hoped the town wouldn’t need, but it would be available if necessary.

“I want the kids to be able to go to school. I want them to play football,” he said, “but I know that Wednesdays are all online (for Cullman County Schools students) and there’s a chance that the schools might have to shut down and make everything online (due to the COVID-19 pandemic).”

He continued, “There are people here who don’t have reliable internet – I was talking to a lady the other day who still uses dial-up, which I didn’t even know still existed – and they’ve gotta have a way for their kids to do their schoolwork. The (Cullman) County (School Board) says they’re gonna put WiFi on the buses and units on the campuses, but I haven’t heard much about it so I don’t know how long that will take.”

Once fully operational, the service in Holly Pond’s parks will be available from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. every day through the end of the semester. The time restrictions will allow students learning online to access their courses as soon as the school day begins and allow plenty of time later in the day for working parents to bring their students to work on their homework, while preventing anyone roaming the parks late at night from using the excuse that they are working on homework.

The end-of-semester deadline was set for two reasons: to let the incoming council members decide what to do and whether to continue the service, and to look at what the spring semester may be like before making any decisions.

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From left to right: Riley Gillilan, Jason Mercer, Jordan McDonald, Hayden Rawdon, Ashley Holmes and Holly Pond Mayor Bill Oliver (Heather Mann for The Cullman Tribune)
Service boundaries for Dane Estes Memorial Park (aka Governors Park)
Service boundaries for Lions Club Park

Heather Mann