FacebookGoogle isn’t the only Internet software giant to get involved in the hardware and networking side of things. Facebook today said it would partner with non-profit Internet service provider Pangaea to provide free Wi-Fi connectivity to the homes of certain students in the Town of Forest City, Rutherford County Schools, in North Carolina.

Facebook Free Wi-Fi Plans
Middle and high school students in that school district are already provided with laptops but school district officials have found that nearly half of the students don’t have access to the Internet at home, reports Keven McCammon, site data center manager for Facebook’s Forest City data center, in a blog post.

“We want all of our students to be able to take full advantage of the 1:1 program and use the Internet both at school and at home,” said McCammon. Depending on the results of the Wi-Fi pilot program, Facebook may expand Wi-Fi availability in students’ homes, he noted.

I wouldn’t count on Facebook extending the Wi-Fi initiative beyond Forest City, however.  The Internet giant has a special relationship with that town after choosing it as the site of a $450 million data center several years ago. With a population of 7,500, Forest City is the largest town in Rutherford County in the western part of the state.

Aside from the community goodwill, the Wi-Fi initiative could benefit Facebook in another way as well: Although it’s a common practice for schools to block student access to social media sites such as Facebook in an effort to minimize student distractions, those restrictions don’t exist in student homes.

I would expect Pangaea to handle the Wi-Fi installations for Facebook, which will need to be supported by a broadband connection into the home. Some homes already may have that connection but others may not.

Pangaea appears to have an advanced network in Forest City, which should facilitate the process of getting broadband to any homes that don’t currently receive the service.