Tackling the Problem of Broadband Access in Rural Areas to Support E-learning

Rural Americans have struggled with access to broadband for decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of reliable, high-speed access as millions have had to work and learn from home. Connectivity to the internet has become critical infrastructure that in the “new normal,” and has profound effects on one’s long term socioeconomic potential and quality of life.

Project Overview & Summary

Rural Americans have struggled with access to broadband for decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of reliable, high-speed access as millions have had to work and learn from home. Connectivity to the internet has become critical infrastructure that in the “new normal,” and has profound effects on one’s long term socioeconomic potential and quality of life.


To address this problem, Wabash College and the Innovation Partners Institute at Purdue Research Foundation (IPI) have partnered with SBA Communications and Watch Communications. This public-private partnership is working to bring broadband connectivity, defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, to rural communities in Indiana through the application of novel technology and operating platforms.

The pilot program is focused on more than 7,800 students who attend six schools in five school districts in Jasper and Newton counties located in northwestern Indiana.

The traditional approach for providing broadband service is based on in-ground fiber deployment, which is a “wired” solution. The economic model around wired solutions work well in high-population density geographies, that is, in areas where many people in proximity can leverage the bandwidth capacity and share the cost of fiber cabling. Wired solutions do not work economically in low-population density areas where cable distances are long and end-users are few. As a result, historically and chronically rural communities are under served by commercial broadband providers.

As a comparison, Marion County (Indianapolis) has a population density of 2,430 people per square mile, while Tippecanoe County (Lafayette and West Lafayette), Jasper County, and Newton County have population densities of 391, 60.0, 34.8 people per square mile, respectively.

This project looks to overcome the population density challenges of wired broadband by providing broadband through a wireless network broadcast across the two counties. The wireless broadcast will be similar to cellular carrier technology but would be a private network. Participating school corporations would govern access, use, and privacy. The wireless networks will use OnGo Private LTE on Citizen Band Radio Services (CBRS) band 48 spectrum.

The pilot represents a proof-of-concept and will provide information about the technological and economic viability of providing wireless service in rural communities with population density ratios of less than 100 people per square mile. The information and lessons learned from the pilot will enable further refinement and understanding that can be used as the basis of a broad scale deployment.

Innovation Partner

Mo Shakouri, Ph.D.

Rural e-Learning Project

Shakouri is a Silicon Valley investor, entrepreneur and international executive with more than 25 years experience in the communications and electronics industry.

Corporate Collaborators

SBA Communications

SBA Communications Corporation is a leading independent owner and operator of wireless communications infrastructure including towers, buildings, rooftops, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small cells.

Watch Communications

Watch Communications is a wireless communications company specializing in Wireless Broadband Internet, Fiber Internet, TV, Hosting and VoIP Phone Services to both residential and business customers.