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Being Mobile | Blog

How much does Internet Connectivity cost? That Depends!

Less than 3 Euro’s per month! Colleagues from Finland pay less than 3 euro’s per month for their mobile phone data plan. Oh, and did we forget to say that it is an unlimited data plan?!

This month we are in Lisbon – Portugal, not Ohio – giving the opening talk at the 2013 IADIS Conference on Mobile Learning[1]. And, during our workshop on our WeLearn Mobile Platform (reference), one topic we talked about with our colleagues, like the Finns, was the cost of Internet connectivity. Colleagues from the UK pay between 10-20 UK pounds per month for their unlimited data plan. And colleagues from Portugal pay a whopping 40 Euros per month – but they get voice and data, both unlimited, for that amount.

And what do we pay in the U.S.? In January, ES used his MiFi to create a mobile hotspot in his hotel room while attending the Florida Educational Technology Conference. He hates to pay the hotel Wi-Fi charges, particularly when the service is slow! But, in just 4 days, he used 9 gigs of data – 4 gigs over his 5 gig limit. So he paid $50 for the 5 gigs, his baseline monthly bill, and he paid $10 per gig for each of the 4 gigs over his limit, for a total of $90. And, he swears he didn’t watch one movie or listen to one song.

Maybe the U.S. telco’s need to talk to the Finnish, or the UK telco’s, or the Portuguese telco’s to find out how to provide a lower cost data plan. But, hey; If we in the U.S. will pay what the U.S. telco’s charge, why should the U.S. telco’s charge less? Our colleague from Finland said: that’s democracy; but our very CN said: no, that’s capitalism!

In last week’s blog[2] we identified the various Puzzle Pieces needed to make a mobile learning initiative work. Connectivity to the Internet is one of those Puzzle Pieces – and it is a show-stopper; no connectivity, no real mobile learning. As we have said before[3], an Internet-connected, mobile device in a student’s hands is a tool of liberation, of independence, of taking ownership for their own learning. A student can themselves, without mediation by a teacher or textbook, use the Internet to find whatever he/she needs at the moment they need/want it.

But, having an “Always-On” Internet connection is still a dream for the vast majority of K-12 schools. Besides the cost challenge – which is coming down for Wi-Fi, K-12 school buildings are the most challenging of locations for Wi-Fi or cellular signals:

  • cluster 30+ individuals in one room, and then line up a whole big bunch of those clusters right next to each other, and then stack those clusters on top of each other;
  • have radio signals penetrate the massive concrete walls of schools built in the 50’s.

Frankly, the Internet connectivity Puzzle Piece is an easy one to address: the FCC needs to step in and decree that the telco’s and the cable companies must provide a special, low-cost, price for K-12 schools. There is a clear precedent! In 2011 the FCC instituted its “Connect2Compete[4]” program that requires cable companies to give poor families Internet connectivity for $9.95 a month for 2 years. A poor family is defined as one that has at least one child in a free or reduced lunch program at school. And, by the way, the cable companies pointed out that they still made a profit at $9.95 a month.

With an educational price for Internet connectivity, K-12 schools could provide an Always On Internet connection for learners; with an educational price for Internet connectivity, K-12 learners would truly be empowered as never before. What an amazing shot in the arm such a national initiative would give to U.S. schools!

Come on, FCC! Extend the “Connect2Compete” to support K-12 schools!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Being Mobile blog at thejournal.com/beingmobile.

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