MADISON, Wis. (WFRV) – Gov. Tony Evers announced on Friday that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will provide a $100,000 Capacity Building Grant to launch a pilot program testing a tethered, drone-based system to provide high-speed internet Wisconsin students in rural areas.

Officials said the six-month project will use Wisconsin TeleLift’s tethered drone platforms fitted with cell phone towers to provide high-speed internet to students in Wisconsin’s Northland Pines School District.

The Northland Pines School District, based in Eagle River, serves more than 1,300 students over 435 square miles in Vilas and Oneida counties.

Superintendent Scott Foster said that while the district provides all students with Chromebooks and can provide hotspots, not all students are able to use them at home and parts of the district still lack cell service.

The district has strengthened its wifi networks in school buildings so students and families can use the network from their vehicles in the parking lot or in good weather at picnic tables outside, Foster said.

But district officials say it’s far from a perfect system. He estimates more than 10 percent of students have no access to broadband.  

“Just as this past year has demonstrated, access to high-speed internet is a necessity and critical to how we live, learn, and work. It’s the key that opens the door to new opportunities for our students, our communities, and our state, and will be vital to our state’s economic bounce back,” said Gov. Evers. “That’s why I declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access and proposed the largest state investment in broadband ever, and I look forward to this creative and innovative pilot program to help some of our most rural students get connected.”