During the current global health crisis, it is critical that all Oklahomans have access to adequate and affordable internet services. Schools throughout the state have transitioned to online course work to complete the academic year. Health care facilities rely heavily on their telehealth programs to help ease the burden of patient care. Businesses are depending more on ecommerce to reach current and new customers. An unprecedented percentage of Oklahoma citizens in the workforce depend on the ability to telework for the foreseeable future.
As the world moves to telework, distance learning and virtual meetings, internet connectivity is more vital than ever. Internet access is also critical to economic sustainability during a health crisis as commerce transitions online and as businesses must find new ways to connect with consumers. Due to these newfound needs, OneNet is partnering with telecommunications providers in communities throughout the state to promote broadband availability during the current health emergency.
Oklahomans’ broadband needs have increased dramatically during this time, and OneNet’s telecommunications partners are offering solutions for a wide variety of needs. Some of these solutions include reduced internet service prices, expedited bandwidth upgrades and more. Recently, Sonja Wall, director of OCAN and OneNet Services and the state broadband coordinator, hosted a call with 75 telecommunications representatives to coordinate services and discuss how providers can best meet customers’ new needs.
“It is estimated that 150,000 Oklahoma students K-12 are without internet access during this crisis,” said Wall. “The entire community is coming together to gather resources for these students and their families.”
In addition to her position with OneNet, Wall recently began serving as Oklahoma’s state broadband coordinator. In this role, she brings together a variety of public and private organizations to create a strategy for addressing broadband needs in communities throughout the state. This role is more vital than ever as Oklahoma citizens need to connect not only within their own communities, but across the state and around the globe.
As Wall noted, public and private organizations are coming together in communities to meet citizens’ needs. Libraries are offering public WiFi in their parking lots. Rural community electric co-ops are broadening their services to offer internet in their communities. OneNet is partnering with the State Department of Education to develop a toolkit to help students obtain internet access. OneNet is also helping families and students who reach out to us by connecting them to low-cost internet options from their local telecommunications providers.
While OneNet has been working with community partners to ensure all Oklahomans are equipped with internet access, our customers are always our priority. OneNet has reached out to our customers to offer bandwidth increases to meet their new needs with telework, distance learning and virtual meetings. OneNet has also expedited setting up Zoom video conferencing licenses for customers. Organizations utilizing OneNet Zoom services include state agencies, municipalities, K-12 schools, colleges and universities, higher educational boards and the governor’s office. OneNet now manages 26,000 Zoom licenses and has assisted with setting up several large virtual public meetings to ensure the state can provide continuity of services to citizens.
The challenges of the current health crisis have also brought to the forefront the need for the development of a statewide network that supports telework, telehealth and distance learning. The State Regents, OneNet and several partnering agencies recently published the Oklahomans Virtually Everywhere report. This report was developed in response to the Oklahomans Virtually Everywhere Act of 2019 (House Bill 1921), which created a statewide initiative to make Oklahoma a leader in telepresence and virtual presence by allowing Oklahomans to provide their expertise, knowledge and instruction throughout the world without leaving their communities.
“The Virtually Everywhere Act helps to foster a robust technological structure that promotes a statewide telepresence and virtual presence network, which is particularly vital right now when we need everyone to stay home,” says OneNet Executive Director Vonley Royal. “Developing this statewide network allows key staff to work from home through telepresence and virtual presence, thus keeping everyone safe while still delivering state and local services to citizens.”
OneNet believes that now, more than ever, its mission to further technology across the state of Oklahoma is vital. We will continue to work with community partners to meet the state’s ever-evolving needs.
Story by Abbey Wood, OneNet Strategic Communications Intern Spring 2020