Laws Prevent Guam Schools From Using Free Internet Access

admin's picture

3 public schools campaigned for free access, now ‘disappointed’

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 26, 2013) – Legal and bureaucratic snags have left three Guam public schools unable to receive a year's worth of free Internet, which those schools' students, parents and faculty had campaigned for in an island-wide contest.

The Guam Department of Education (DOE) stated it couldn't accept GTA's free Internet prizes because local procurement law forbids DOE from receiving them from a business that sells products or services to DOE.

The three public schools -- Simon Sanchez High, Untalan Middle and Benavente Middle School -- would have received online speeds of up to 50 megabits per second for the coming school year, scheduled to begin in August. That would have been enough to provide Internet access to possibly 500 students and staff at each school, based on a benchmark set by the State Educational Technology Directors Association for kindergarten through 12th grade schools.

GTA stated yesterday Guam DOE "has declined acceptance of (free Internet and Wi-Fi) services and upgrades to any of the public schools."

No foundation

There's another Guam law that would have allowed for such donations to be accepted through a foundation, DOE acknowledged.

Guam Public Law 30-8 was enacted in April 2009, requiring Guam DOE to establish the Foundation for Public Education. The law states the foundation's purpose "is to accept private gifts, donations, endowments, services-in-kind, grants and other money which may be offered in support of (the Guam Department of Education)."

The foundation has yet to be established, according to DOE.

DOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez said he recently learned about the law allowing for a foundation to receive donations on behalf of DOE, so he wants the foundation established as soon as possible.

Disappointment

At Simon Sanchez High School, word that its campus won't receive its prize of free Internet for a year was received with disappointment.

Rebecca Duenas, an assistant principal, said the school's participation in GTA's contest started when a school faculty member heard about it, which then led to teachers, staff, students, family and friends of the school to spend time getting the school enough support to win second place. Duenas said she was one of those who spent late-night hours helping the school win the contest.

The school's Internet service is very slow, especially when students use a mobile computer lab that allows about 30 students at a time to use laptops, she said.

The prospect of free and faster Internet that potentially would have benefitted more students prompted the Simon Sanchez High School community to enter the contest. Duenas said she felt let down when she heard yesterday the school won't get free and faster Internet after all.

"It would have really helped our school; we do rely on a lot of information over the Internet," Duenas said.

She said when the school hosted a senatorial election debate, the online coverage of the debate experienced delays because of the slow connection.

She said the organizer should have clarified first if public schools are allowed to receive the prize before allowing them to enter.

Offer declined

Fernandez, in a July 16 letter to GTA, stated he appreciates the opportunity GTA offered through its free Internet contest on Facebook.

"However, offering or receiving free Internet service from GTA, which is currently a contractor for (Guam DOE), appears to violate prohibitions set out in Guam's procurement law," Fernandez wrote.

Fernandez said it's unfortunate for students to have their expectations raised.

"We should have caught this before the competition commenced," the superintendent said.

Well-intentioned

Andrew Gayle, GTA chief operating officer, in a statement said "before the summer break, our company gave students, faculty, staff, and family members the opportunity to rally for their schools to win free Internet and Wi-Fi.

"The contest was launched in response to the public outcry over the insufficient Internet service currently in our schools," Gayle said.

"Though it was our intent to assist in this way, we were disappointed to hear that DOE is unable to accept it. As a result, we are happy to extend this great opportunity to the top three private schools to garner votes in our contest."

In previous years, public schools were among recipients of thousands of dollars of prizes from GTA in another contest involving a roundup of old phone books for recycling, Pacific Daily News files show.

Others awarded

After Guam DOE declined the free Internet, GTA decided to give free Internet to Santa Barbara, St. Francis and St. Anthony Catholic Schools for the upcoming school year.

In addition to providing free Internet with Wi-Fi, the company will also fund the initial construction costs -- up to $10,000 -- for each of the winning schools, including infrastructure and equipment, according to GTA.

If Guam DOE does establish a foundation that allows public schools to receive free Internet, GTA's offer is open, said Dan Tydingco, an executive vice president at GTA.

Months earlier, GTA challenged the selection of a competitor, Pacific Data Systems, to provide Internet to island public schools.

The DOE superintendent said he's not happy with the current Internet speed and capacity at schools. Another agency chose DOE's Internet service provider.

Fernandez added he has made his expectation known to the vendor that speed and capacity for Internet connection at schools should significantly improve by the early part of the new school year.

"I've been very clear about my expectations," Fernandez said.

In May, the Pacific Daily News reported that documents show Guam's 40 public schools receive slower Internet speed and limited capacity for online learning compared to what they are supposed to receive under a 5-year agreement with contractor Pacific Data Systems.

The speed was so slow the federal government had declined to reimburse Guam for the Internet connection cost, documents showed. GTA had requested an audit of the contract.

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Add new comment