Worcester School Committee requests more timely and transparent information on internet outages from Spectrum

Members of the Worcester School Committee on Thursday night voted to request that the city demand more transparency and timely information about internet outages from Spectrum, weeks after an hours-long outage left students without a way to access remote classes.

The committee voted unanimously to “request Administration and the Mayor, with requested assistance from the city administration, demand more timely, more transparent, and more useful information regarding internet outages and slowdowns from Spectrum.”

On Jan. 4, students and teachers, as well as other residents of Worcester and retailers, were stuck without internet, TV or phone service for about 8 hours. As Charter/Spectrum worked on the issue, the public schools used social media to spread messages of the outage, attempting to let students know that synchronous learning would begin as soon as the internet came back.

The outage was caused by crews resplicing more than 430 pieces of fibers, Spectrum clarified the next day.

Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick said the frustration wasn’t necessarily with the outage, but more so with the lack of information while a significant portion of the student body was not able to learn online.

The situation left the district in an “impossible situation, where we had some students that had access and some students that didn’t and some teachers that did and some teachers that didn’t, and we didn’t know where they were and we didn’t know when they were getting it back,” Novick said.

It ended up being “worse than trying to make a snow day call when the snow is supposed to start at 7:30,” Novick said.

“I think, first of all, we need to register that that was unacceptable,” Novick added. “I think that we need, as a committee, to say that this is a service that we depend on, that our families depend on, that our students depend on, and that we’re asking you, on the city side, we’re asking the administration on their end, to convey that sentiment to Spectrum, again, for what’s it’s worth.”

The Worcester schools have been remote since last March. The committee earlier this month pushed back the scheduled start of hybrid learning, as cases of COVID-19 remained high in the city.

Superintendent Maureen Binienda told committee members Thursday that she now has a contact at Spectrum to call for information if there are large outages in the future.

Additionally, Worcester City Councilor Matt Wally is working to form a new committee with city and public school officials, including Novick, to study the city’s broadband internet issues.

Even before students were learning remotely, internet access has been an issue in Worcester. The Worcester Regional Research Bureau published a report over the summer, which indicated that while about 67{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of city households had a broadband internet subscription, 18{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} had no internet access.

The bureau, some city officials and residents have pushed the city to study municipal broadband as a solution.

Worcester and Spectrum recently reached an agreement to offer better internet access at a lower price for Worcester Public Schools families.

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