When the Mendocino Unified School District decided to connect classrooms in each of its five schools to the Internet, this rural, coastal town in California faced the same obstacle that prevents many other small districts from using the latest technology: insufficient funding. So the District decided to raise revenue by becoming an Internet service provider for the local community.
It built the infrastructure by setting up partnerships to obtain hardware, software, and technical support. NASA, for example, provided the initial Internet connection. In exchange, the district agreed to develop an Internet-infused curriculum spanning the academic disciplines, which is distributed to educators nationwide on its World Wide Web site.
After the network infrastructure was in place, the district launched the Mendocino Community Network (MCN), which offers district teachers free access to electronic mail, the World Wide Web, and other Internet services. More than 750 community members pay monthly subscriptions to use the service. Local businesses also pay a fee to the district to maintain World Wide Web pages advertising their wares.
The revenues from MCN cover the cost of maintaining the district's electronic network and any surplus goes into the District's general fund. The District has been selected as a model site for Pacific Bell's Education First program, an initiative that aims to connect all of the state's classrooms to the Internet.