Policy | News

National Broadband Map Suggests U.S. Schools Need More and Better Investment in Technology Infrastructure

"Ensuring high-speed broadband access for all students is a critical national issue and foundational to realizing our education reform and improvement goals." This was the admonition from Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), in response to the release Feb. 17 of the National Broadband Map by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce.

The map shows that as many as two-thirds of schools surveyed provide Internet connection speeds of 25 Mbps or less to their students, faculty, and staff. The SETDA report, entitled "High-Speed Broadband Access for All Kids: Breaking through the Barriers," cited studies conducted by chief education technology directors of several states, which show that, for educational broadband to offer optimal impact on technology use and comprehension, as well as on overall learning, schools need to offer connection speeds of between 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps. In short, according to SETDA, the map reveals that the speed and quality of school Internet connections are "woefully inadequate to meet education goals."

"The National Broadband Map shows there are still too many people and community institutions lacking the level of broadband service needed to fully participate in the Internet economy," said Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling. "We are pleased to see the increase in broadband adoption last year, particularly in light of the difficult economic environment, but a digital divide remains."

Levin pointed out that significant improvements in broadband access are critical in rural and remote areas, "where opportunities for a wider variety of courses, especially in science, are fewer." However, he continued, "students everywhere need access to rich educational tools and resources; teachers need access for professional development and to engage in professional learning communities; administrators need high-speed broadband access to conduct online assessments and to access data for effective decision-making."

Funding for the data collection and verification required to develop the map came courtesy of the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program. According to the NTIA, the agency "awarded grants to assist states or their designees in gathering and verifying state-specific data on broadband services. In less than one year, grantees performed two rounds of data collection from 3,400 broadband providers operating in their states, representing more than 1,650 unique broadband companies on the national level. Before sending data to NTIA, grantees used a range of analysis and verification methods, from drive-testing wireless broadband service across their highways to meeting with community leaders for input. Many grantees met with broadband providers, large and small, to confirm data or suggest more accurate depictions of their service areas."

To convey the importance of the information the map, the underlying survey, and the SETDA report reveal, Levin emphasized one of the key points President Obama made regarding global competitiveness and investment in U.S. technology infrastructure last month in his annual State of the Union Address. "Simply put," Levin asserted, "without continued and direct investment in broadband and educational technologies, education reformers are asking schools to improve, innovate and compete with one hand tied behind their back."