By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — Datacasting technology is poised to bring e-learning to tens of thousands of kids in Indiana – and it could save the state millions.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported Monday, the reason is that it is a much cheaper alternative to internet hotspots. There is a potential for millions of dollars in savings because most of the infrastructure is already there.

Indiana is one of three states trying datacasting out, and it could change e-learning nationwide.

With datacasting, lessons are transmitted over the airwaves through an antenna and receiver. When students are connected, they receive instructional units from educational television libraries that go directly to their laptop, tablet, or iPhone.

It may sound complicated, but it is actually technology that TV stations have been using for decades.

“It’s virtually the same in Illinois,” said Mark Newman, executive director of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. “That infrastructure is there.”

Newman secured the more than $6 million in grants to begin the pilot program of 8,200 households, in the hopes of ultimately bringing online education to more than 84,000 Hoosier students who still don’t have Internet access at home.

A whopping 30 percent of kids in Teresa Brown’s district in rural Jennings County, Indiana fall into that category.

“So I absolutely do think it’s a game changer,” said Brown, the superintendent of Jennings County Schools. “You know, we purchased a releasing about 1,200 hotspots to get us through the right now time period – and that’s not sustainable.”

As to how much cheaper datacasting would be, Newman said: “Oh my gosh, I mean, it is. It is tens of millions of dollars cheaper.”

It’s not foolproof. Jennings County Schools IT director Joshua Taylor said it might have to be coupled with a hotspots for areas with bad signals.

Right now, it’s also a one-way channel. But it is a solution that the district is excited to help get off the ground.

“PBS has a continuing commitment towards education, and kudos to them, because this is a great idea, and very pleased that they’re there they’re really concerned about getting educational content in the, in the kids hands,” Taylor said.

Pennsylvania and South Carolina are other states with pilot programs out there and Newman tells me South Dakota is also looking into the technology.

As for Illinois, Hickey did reach out to the Illinois State Board of Education to see if datacasting is something they’ve considered or would consider looking into.

Indiana’s program will be off the ground in January, so we will be able to see some of the results of their pilot program early next year.

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Megan Hickey