Minnesota schools and broadband: is the connection half full or half empty


Sharon Schmickle wrote a nice piece earlier this week about the importance broadband in the schools and the uneven distribution of broadband in the schools.

Using a recent study(Broadband speeds in Minnesota’s Schools) from the Center for Rural Policy, Sharon points out…

In 243 school districts surveyed, broadband connections were available to access the Internet at speeds up to 28 megabits/second on average. But the median speed was 10 mbps.

Why the wide disparity in these two measures of the middle? Simple. A few districts enjoyed ultra-high-speed connections of 100 mbps and higher, skewing the average higher. Many others, though, were trying to get by with no more than 1.5 mbps.

She follows that up with a great quote from Marnie Werner from the Center for Rural Policy…

“Nobody feels like they have enough,” Werner said. “No matter how much we purchase, people are going to figure out how to fill that up given the way the technology is going.”

I can’t decide whether I’m depressed or inspired by the observation. The depressing part obviously is that there’s just not enough bandwidth. Mary Mehsikomer from NW-LINKS tell a frustrating story…

But too many schools still are struggling with access that would be considered inadequate by most modern measures, especially small schools in rural regions.

Eighteen of the districts surveyed by the Center for Rural Policy & Development reported speeds of 1.5 mbps. Even some in the NW-LINKS network are trying to get by on download speeds of 3 mbps or less, Mehsikomer said.

How does that limit a school in a practical sense? She offered one example: “During statewide testing week, they basically don’t allow any other Internet use in the school while they are downloading the tests and running them.”

But the inspiring news is that the broadband is getting used – and that there’s a feeling that build it and it will get used in the schools. That means that there is opportunity and that students (and teachers) are finding broadband to be beneficial.

I’ve been reading up on the National Broadband Plan; there’s a whole section on education that rests solidly on expanding, deepening and assessing the E-Rate. But as Sharon points out – the National Plan won’t stand alone and luck favors the prepared it behooves us in Minnesota to ask our policymakers what they plan to do to make sure that being able to “use as much bandwidth as we get” is inspiring, not depressing.

This entry was posted in education, MN, Research, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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