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Western Albemarle High School Staff Working to Increase Internet Accessibility

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Ira Socol wants to increase students' access to broadband Ira Socol wants to increase students' access to broadband
A 135-foot cell tower is located at Albemarle High School A 135-foot cell tower is located at Albemarle High School
Ira Socol Ira Socol
ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) -

School may be out for the summer, but Albemarle County is still working to help every student access the internet.

The Albemarle County Planning Commission denied plans for a cell tower that could go up at Western Albemarle High School in Crozet, but staff remain hopeful for the future and they want to see broadband accessible by all students.

Internet access is desperately needed in parts of western Albemarle County, especially when it comes to education.

“There is virtually no broadband coverage in Greenwood, in Whitehall, in Newtown, in the outer reaches of Batesville,” says Ira Socol, the chief technology and innovation officer at Albemarle County Public Schools. “There’s just no way you can get it.”

Socol says this cell tower is essential for the future.

“I hear heartbreaking stories of parents having to drive their children to the library every night, of kids having to go to school an hour or two early, so they have access to broadband,” says Socol. “And this is all a matter of equity to me.”

The cell tower that is currently at Albemarle High School off Hydraulic Road nearly mirrors the one that staff members want to put up at Western Albemarle in Crozet.

This one would stand behind the bleachers.

“This is 135 feet, the Western one would be 145 feet," says Socol.

On June 26, the planning commission denied approval for the cell tower as many people raised concerns over the impact it would have on the overall aesthetic of the area, and how close it would be to their properties.

“The world might be a little prettier if we had no roads, and no utility poles, and all of those things,” says Socol. “But humans comes first, and their needs come first.”

If the tower is put up, it would provide internet service to nearly 400 students, free of charge.

"We simply don't believe that you charge anything for public education," says Socol.

And although it's been denied by the planning commission, the tower still has a chance to pass at the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors’ meeting in September.

"It will give our students a fair chance to be, show what they can do in the world,” says Socol.

The county is working with Milestone Communications on the project.

It pays all costs of putting up the tower, and it gives the county a lump-sum payment.

The county can then rent out space on the tower to businesses that want access to this internet connection. That, in turn, will help the school pay for the equipment that’s needed to install in people’s homes.

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