Piedmont has been approved for $867,000 in federal eRate discounts to set up a wireless broadband network for the entire city.

The city of Piedmont, Ala., may be less than six months away from setting up a citywide wireless broadband service—a project that started with a push to provide wireless access for students.

“Our goal is to make broadband available to the community, not just the city,” said Piedmont Mayor Brian Young. “There are a lot of people who live outside the city limits who are part of the Piedmont community.”

Piedmont schools Superintendent Matt Akin, a 2011 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner from eSchool News, announced last week that the district had been approved for $867,000 in federal eRate discounts to set up a wireless broadband network for the entire city. The city will kick in $200,000 for the project.

Over the past 18 months, Piedmont has made a leap toward creating the most-connected school system in the state, providing Apple MacBook laptops to every student and incorporating computers into the curriculum. The one remaining gap, school officials say, is home broadband access. Some students can access the internet from home, but in a small-town school district, many homes didn’t have a broadband connection.

City and school officials wanted to level the playing field. And they wanted to build on Piedmont’s growing reputation as a haven for good-quality, high-tech schools. Among other honors, the Piedmont school system was recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s “most wired” school districts.

“We want to maintain our brand as a forward-thinking small city,” Young said. “Any time you can improve your infrastructure and the perception of your city, it helps everyone.”

Piedmont is one of 20 communities taking part in a national pilot project using eRate funds to extend broadband access to students’ homes.

Young said the city’s contractor, the Wetumpka-based Information Transport Solutions (ITS), likely will set up a WiMax network. Akin said the system will be ready by late spring.

“We expect that before the end of the school year, everything will be complete,” he said.

When the WiMax system is set up, students will be able to access it through their laptops for free. But Piedmont officials say the city expects to make the service available to anyone else in the city for a fee.

Young and Akin both said the rates for that service have yet to be set.