Progress Made on K–12 Connectivity, But Work Remains
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Tue, 02/12/2019 – 11:41
Teachers and students are well on their way to fulfilling the mission of seeing 99 percent of all schools connected to next-generation broadband, according to the “2018 State of States Report” from EducationSuperHighway.
The nonprofit broadband advocacy group found nearly 45 million students enjoy in-school access to high-speed internet connectivity, up from 39 million in 2017.
According to the group, 98 percent of public schools have next-generation fiber infrastructure, and 96 percent have enough connectivity to support online and digital learning.
In all, 29 states have connected 99 percent of their schools to fiber. That may be because the cost to connect continues to fall, with 34 states reporting lowering the cost of broadband to less than $3 per megabit per second.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that 2.3 million students and 1,356 schools lack basic infrastructure needed for digital learning, according to the report.
In addition, even schools with the appropriate infrastructure in place to support e-learning haven’t met the Federal Communications Commission’s long-term connectivity goal of 1 gigabit per second per 1,000 users.
According to the agency’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, 88 percent of U.S. schools meet the FCC’s short-term connectivity goal of 100Mbps per 1,000 users, while less than a quarter (22 percent) meet the long-term goal. Funding requests came in $1.4 billion below the program’s spending cap, meaning districts that could have benefitted from those investment dollars missed out.
Tips for Moving Forward on E-Learning
The report offers several suggestions for schools to ensure a stronger path forward on the high-speed connectivity journey — depending on what’s holding them back. For instance, organizations that can’t get project approval from district leaders need to work out a plan to better educate their boards and superintendents about the potential of digital learning and the importance of a scalable broadband infrastructure, EducationSuperHighway advises. That can be done at the district, county or state level.
In Virginia, state education leaders recently established the K–12 Learning Infrastructure Program, which provides help with messaging about why high-speed connectivity is so important, along with assistance on managing E-rate and procurement so local districts can see those goals become reality.
EducationSuperHighway’s report details two other critical steps. First, look for available public funds. This is particularly important for technology directors who don’t know how to fund an infrastructure update or were told by their districts that they can’t afford one.
To that end, IT directors can educate boards and superintendents about two programs that are specifically designed to help schools pay for broadband and infrastructure upgrades, including E-rate and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Connect Grants Program, which received $600 million from the 2018 federal budget. (The 2018 funding window is closed, but the 2019 program and funding should be announced soon.)
Second, the report advises districts overwhelmed by the grant application process to ask for help. Indeed, that may be one of the easiest problems to solve, says Brian Stephens, senior compliance analyst at Funds For Learning, an E-rate consultancy firm based in Edmunds, Okla.
“Every state has an E-rate coordinator,” Stephens said in an interview. “While they may not have IT expertise on staff, they have a good idea of which vendors provide what services. They also know which school districts are having success with their own build outs.”
“Vendors are also good resources,” he adds. “They can help you see how to scale and understand where specific E-rate sensitivities are.”
Here’s more help for maneuvering through the E-rate process: Read “5 Ways to Improve Your E-Rate Process.”