Schools are mostly connected in the US, but that deepens the divide

Telecompetitor reports some good news from the EducationSuperHighway…

Broadband advocacy group EducationSuperHighway found in its annual State of the States report that 98% of public school districts in the United States have high-speed broadband.

They also report some bad news…

But 2.3 million students don’t have high-speed connectivity in their school, the school broadband report found.

Here are other highlights from the report:

·         Only 1,356 schools still lack a fiber-optic connection or other scalable broadband infrastructure, down from 22,958 schools in 2013

·         The cost of K-12 Internet access has declined 85 percent in the last five years

·         Since 2015, the amount invested in Wi-Fi nearly doubled to $2.9 billion, but 7,823 school districts have over $1.4 billion in unused E-rate funds set to expire in 2019.

·         Today, 44.7 million students and 2.6 million teachers in more than 81,000 schools have access. Since 2013, an estimated 40.7 million students have been connected to broadband and 21,600 more schools to fiber, the press release says.

The real problem with this good news/bad news situation is that the schools and students that are being left behind are really left behind. The digital divide may be narrowing but it’s also deepening. And that’s going to leave a sector of students not learning digital skills that will be required for future jobs.

The Rural Broadband Association surveys anchor institutions in member areas to determine levels of service

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) surveyed anchor institutions in their members’ service areas about their connectivity. Here are some of the things they learned:

  • Fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) was the most prevalent connection mode for all anchor institution types.
  • The maximum connection speed of broadband available to anchor institutions in the ILECs’ service areas averaged around 1 Gig (1 Gig = 1,000 Mbps/1 Gbps), except for public libraries where the average maximum connection speed available was less than 500 Mbps.
  • The average connection speed of broadband purchased by anchor institutions in the responding companies’ ILEC service areas was the highest for K–12 schools (238.7 Mbps) and the lowest for public libraries (43.3 Mbps).
  • For anchor institutions that are not connected via fiber, the average distance of those institutions from fiber facilities was 4.1 miles and the median distance was 0.6 miles. Approximately six in 10 of those institutions (59.4%) are less than a mile away from fiber facilities, while just over one-third (34.4%) are located between one and 20 miles from fiber facilities.
  • More than four in 10 respondents (41.3%) indicated that public libraries in their ILEC service areas had access to a maximum broadband speed of 1 Gig or more. For approximately one-half of the respondents (48.9%), public libraries had maximum broadband speed available ranging from 25.0 Mbps to less than 1 Gig. A very small percentage (2.2%) reported that connected public libraries in their service areas had access to a maximum speed of less than 10.0 Mbps
  • More than half of the responding companies (55.6%) had hospitals and medical clinics in their ILEC service areas with access to a maximum broadband speed of 1 Gig or more, and about one-fifth (22.2%) reported that hospitals and medical clinics in their ILEC service areas had access to a maximum speed greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig. The slowest maximum broadband speed available to connected health care providers, as reported by 6.3% of respondents, was greater than/equal to 10.0 Mbps but less than 25.0 Mbps.

NTCA represents nearly 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America

Fire damages high school so kids will be going online for some classes

Bring me the News reports on the results of fire damage in a school in St Cloud…

Apollo High School in St. Cloud is facing an unusual set of challenges due to a fire that damaged parts of the school in July.

The July 11 fire started in a classroom and caused significant smoke damage throughout the school. Last week, health inspectors informed school officials that parts of the school will not be ready for the start of the upcoming school year.

But they have a plan to go online…

“We will begin the school year on an alternate day schedule,” said District 742 Superintendent Willie Jet on Monday. “This means that students will rotate the days they will physically attend Apollo. Students not at Apollo will engage in on-line learning directed by their classroom teachers. Fortunately, every high school student is provided with a one-to-one device which makes this opportunity possible.”!

Jett said they worked with the Minnesota Department of Education and schools around the state that have experienced “similar catastrophic situations” to come up with the plan.

I was worried that plan was going to be a hardship for families that didn’t have broadband access at home, but it turns out they have a plan…

Students that don’t have access to Wi-Fi outside of school will be provided with hotspot devices, according to Apollo Principal Al Johnson.

Wouldn’t it be nice if those families got to keep the hotspots even once the school is ready for a full schedule of students? Imagine how nice it owudl be for them to do homework from home.

 

A tool for schools: Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family

My colleague Bill Coleman has created an awesome guide to help parents and students find the home Internet connection that best fits their needs, in terms of bandwidth and price. Actually, it was created with schools in mind. While the guide can be used ASIS, it’s really a template and the idea is that a school might help fill in the local blanks. For example, help list the providers in the area.

Now is a good time to share it. School is starting soon. All of us parents are starting to buy good shoes, get kids to go to bed early, do those things you need to do to make for a smooth first day. And for some families that may mean getting online or looking for an online upgrade. It’s also the time we’re getting notes and reminders from the school – a reminder that included tips on how to get the best broadband could be very useful – especially if you’re school provides devices for the students.

Toolkit to help Close the Homework Gaps for kids without broadband

Consortium for School Networking has a great toolkit for residents, schools and communities who live outside the reach of broadband. I’ll borrow from the Benton Foundation’s description…

This toolkit provides background context for the Homework Gap, addresses broader implications of household connectivity, suggests resources for scoping the problem, and details five strategies districts are currently using to address these challenges: 1) Partner with Community Organizations to Create “Homework Hotspots”, 2) Promote Low-Cost Broadband Offerings, 3) Deploy Mobile Hotspot Programs, 4) Install Wifi on School Buses and 5) Build Private LTE Networks. In addition, it outlines four steps school leaders can take to collaborate with local governments and their community to take a broader, more holistic approach to digital access and inclusion: 1) Assemble a Team and Develop a Shared Vision, 2) Assess Existing Community Resources, Gaps and Needs, 3) Engage Stakeholders and Partners and 4) Develop and Execute a Project Plan.

Free broadband planning and funding application help for your school

Rural School Collaborative posts a good reminder about Education SuperHighway – they offer free broadband planning and help with funding forms. It’s free. So if your school needs help, it would be worth a call…

EducationSuperHighway is the leading nonprofit that is working to ensure every school across the country has access to high-speed broadband. There is no catch. Everything they do for school districts is free of charge, and they have worked extensively with rural schools and in rural communities in over 30 states.

If you have any questions or would like to receive support, contact Alyssa Cubello (alyssa@educationsuperhighway.org) or visit www.educationsuperhighway.org/accelerate to get in touch. EducationSuperHighway can help you:

  • Plan your broadband network upgrade
  • Research technology and provider options
  • Develop your E-rate Form 470 / RFP strategy
  • Evaluate bids and select the best provider solution

Additionally, you can watch their free webinars here to help you understand more about your available E-rate Category 2 budget, make best use of these funds, and run a successful procurement.

Federal bill introduced to spend e-rate funds on wifi on buses

According to a press release from Senator Udall (New Mexico)…

Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced a bill to put wireless internet on school buses in order to help students without broadband access at home get online to study and do homework. The legislation would allow the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program to reimburse schools that place wi-fi technology on school buses carrying students to school or school related extracurricular activities.

Looks like Minnesota might be a leader here too – the Minnesota Legislature decided to invest in wifi on the buses last year.