Posted on April 6, 2021 in ATSC News
The core mission of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations (IPBS) is to educate. So, when the pandemic hit and children were forced to stay home from school, IPBS knew this could potentially widen the learning gap between those with reliable broadband access and those without it.
IPBS partnered with local school districts to launch a pilot program using datacasting – sending encrypted data via broadcast signals – to share content including video and files to help prevent students from falling behind as they worked from home.
IPBS President Mark Newman offered more insights into the initiative in a Q&A with The Standard
Why did Indiana Public Broadcasting stations feel compelled to dive into datacasting as one of the earliest adopters?
Our mandates are education and public service, so it was a natural. Kids with spotty internet access or who are without internet altogether were falling behind in school and we needed to do our part to level the playing field. We had previous experience with datacasting through a public safety exercise that our member station in Fort Wayne (WFWA) orchestrated back in 2018, so we were familiar with the tech. When the pandemic hit, we learned there was potential that it could be applied to remote learning, so we began to explore it further. We became early adopters of educational datacasting because it was quickly clear to us that it could solve a problem for a lot of Indiana school children. Through member station WTIU in Bloomington, we have successfully launched datacasting in partnership with Jennings County School Corp. in southeastern Indiana. We’re now in the process of deploying datacasting to 14 more school districts across Indiana through our other seven member stations.
When did you receive the federal grant and what is the process of purchasing the infrastructure needed to get datacasting going, locally?
We received word last August that we’d be awarded grant funding for a pilot test of datacasting in Jennings County. We were then notified in October that we would receive additional funding for statewide deployment. The funding has enabled us to outfit each of our eight IPBS member stations with a datacasting encoder that allows for the receipt and transmission of teacher content to targeted student computer devices. The funding will also enable us to deploy 8,200 wireless receiver/antenna kits to households throughout the state. We anticipate being able to activate 11,000 students with this equipment.
What do you anticipate will be the impact on students who don’t have consistent access to internet?
Datacasting will be an equalizer for students without internet. It’s not a panacea, but it is part of a bigger solution to bridge the digital divide. Broadband is the gold standard, but there are simply too many places in Indiana where internet access is either poor or doesn’t exist at all or it’s just too expensive. Datacasting levels the playing field. It creates educational equity. It gives students living in outlying areas of the state as well as more densely populated ones better access.
How do you see datacasting evolving with ATSC 3.0 coming online across the country? What are some of the new possibilities?
I see datacasting evolving right along with ATSC 3.0. They’re complementary of one another. The wireless receivers we’re deploying have an ATSC 3.0 chip built into them, so they will be compatible with next gen tv when it becomes more broadly available. This will help smooth the transition from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0. It will mean more people will have access to next gen tv sooner. Also, ATSC 3.0 will help solve datacasting’s return path issue. In addition, new use cases for datacasting are being formulated all the time. The case for datacasting as a public safety asset is well established. Its efficacy in K-12 education is currently being proven out. And there are other opportunities for impact in workforce training, telehealth, precision agriculture, and elsewhere.
How many Indiana students are expected to benefit from IPBS’s datacasting and what does that mean for their growth as students?
In this initial launch of datacasting, some 8,200 wireless receivers and antennas will be distributed to households across our eight-member station viewing areas. Since datacasting is a one-to-many technology, we project that roughly 11,000 school children will be connected. Through datacasting, we have the ability to help kids who are falling behind in school due to a lack of internet access. Datacasting levels the playing field.
What are the next steps in this process?
We’re in the process of standing up 14 school districts. When we finish with them, we hope to bring on other districts and educational organizations to further close the access gap.
Posted in ATSC News
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The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.