A pilot program that tests a tethered, drone based system could help an area school district get high-speed internet.

Gov. Tony Evers announced the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation‘s (WEDC) $100,000 Capacity Building Grant on Friday. The grant is being awarded to the Forest County Economic Development Partnership.

Broadband is one of the issues Gov. Evers highlights, providing $200,000 million in funding in the biennial budget; $150 million of that goes toward broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

And, the grant’s impact begins immediately, with a partnership between Wisconsin TeleLift and the Northland Pines School District.

The six-month project will use Wisconsin TeleLift’s tethered drone platforms fitted with cell phone towers to provide high-speed internet access to the roughly 10 percent of district students who currently have none.

“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.”

According to the press release, the pilot program tests a system originally designed to catch poachers in South Africa’s game reserves to see if it can help students in Wisconsin’s Northland Pines School District complete their homework and connect to their school’s resources.

The Northland Pines School District provides students with Chromebook and can provide hotspots, but not all students are able to use them at home and parts of the district still lack cell service.

And while the district has improved it’s own wifi, it’s not the perfect system for students to work from vehicles in a parking lot.

Superintendent Scott Foster estimates more than 10 percent of students have no access to broadband.

The TeleLift system is designed to be portable, allowing district to move the platforms around to see where the service works best and even evaluate where to possibly invest in permanent infrastructure.