Schools are getting innovative with bringing broadband to students who need it.

Michael Calabrese and Amir Nasr at New America look at schools in the pandemic. They have been hard hit with need and many have gotten innovative about how to get broadband to the students who need it to ensure a more equitable experience for all

The problem…

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep inequities in the United States, and the lack of high-speed broadband access has been front-and-center because this public health crisis has required a large share of the population to work and learn from home. Among those most adversely impacted have been America’s students. The pandemic resulted in the near total shutdown of schools last spring, impacting 55.1 million students at 124,000 U.S. public and private schools.1 Schools shifted to remote learning almost overnight. The prevalence of remote learning continued into the 2020–2021 school year, with only 24 percent of school districts returning to in-person instruction full-time.

Exacerbating the problem…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has both the authority and the resources to mitigate the homework gap and yet it has refused to act. The FCC oversees the Universal Service Fund, which spends billions of dollars each year on several programs with the statutory goal of connecting all Americans to advanced communications, including specifically for education.

The homegrown solutions…

Thankfully, hundreds of school districts around the country have not waited for the FCC to grant them more E-Rate funding or flexibility to allocate E-Rate funds to meet this challenge. This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior.

An outline of the solutions they detail…

This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior. In Part II, we profile more than a dozen school districts that have pioneered a range of innovative approaches to connecting students lacking adequate internet access at home. We start with three school districts in Iowa and California that have partnered with their municipality to build out community Wi-Fi networks that connect low-income students directly to the school’s network. The next subsection profiles school districts in Texas, California, and other states that are taking advantage of novel spectrum sharing frameworks, such as the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band, to build out private LTE mobile networks that connect students at home, and that are far more financially sustainable longer term than buying subscriptions from mobile cellular providers.

A third subsection describes efforts in Virginia and Colorado to extend the reach of school networks directly to students at home, or to community hotspots closer to their homes, using the free unlicensed spectrum known as “TV white spaces” (TVWS). TVWS refers to the locally-vacant television channels that can be used to transmit internet access over very long distances. Finally, a fourth subsection highlights districts that are outfitting school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots and parking them strategically in neighborhoods where clusters of students lack broadband at home. Some districts are locating internet hotspots in community centers, public housing, or other more permanent locations. Libraries, which are also eligible for E-Rate funding, have also been stepping up by lending out Wi-Fi hotspots and amplifying their Wi-Fi so that students and other patrons can get online even when the building is closed.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, Policy, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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