IT Trends | Research

Cost of WiFi in Schools: $800 Million per Year

A new analysis of America's schools shows that it will cost $800 million per year to bring high-speed broadband to 99 percent of the student population, one of the goals of the Obama administration's ConnectED initiative.

The analysis, conducted by EducationSuperHighway and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), two education technology advocacy organizations, examined the current state of networking infrastructure in schools in the United States and then estimated the costs of bringing that infrastructure up to date based on input from district chief technology officers and network equipment vendors.

The analysis found that just 43 percent of schools have the infrastructure needed to support 1-to-1 technology initiatives. And in order to build out the infrastructure needed to support the remaining 57 percent, the tab will run about $800 million per year — about $3.2 billion over the next four years (the timeframe laid out in the President's ConnectED initiative). That cost does not include maintenance costs for the 43 percent of districts that already have adequate wireless broadband.

CoSN and ESH submitted the analysis to the Federal Communications Commission, which is at present working to modernize the E-rate program, which provides funds to schools for telecommunications, computing and networking equipment and services.

According to the report: "Throughout its E-rate modernization proceeding, the FCC has placed significant emphasis on evaluating and addressing the current lack of funding for LAN and WiFi networks. Solving this issue has received nearly universal support from commenters on the Commission's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the E-rate Program (NPRM) and the more recent Public Notice by the FCC's Wireline Bureau. However, there has been little data entered into the public record on the amount of funding actually required to ensure that every school and library has the LAN, WiFi, and WAN equipment it needs."

Among other findings in the report:

  • 74 percent of schools already have an in-building fiber backbone;
  • 80 percent of schools can support gigabit broadband through existing wiring;
  • 80 percent of schools have some WiFi capabilities in 90 percent of their classrooms, though those capabilities may not meet the standard of "robust" connectivity.

"Our survey revealed an unfortunate, but very real picture, with 57 percent of districts reporting their wireless networks incapable of handling a 1:1 deployment today and 40 percent of classrooms with no WiFi at all. However, until now the education community did not have the data to measure the investment required to solve this problem. Now we do," said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "The cost model designed by EducationSuperHighway and CoSN shows what it will take to get all our schools up to speed experiencing an enriched learning environment within the President's proposed timeframe."

"This estimate is the result of a true collaboration among the technology and education communities," said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, also in a prepared statement. "We consulted with more than 50 chief technology officers, vendors, and education experts to arrive at a consensus of what it will take to meet the President's goals and ensure all students are able to take advantage of 21st century learning opportunities."

The complete analysis is freely accessible online at


About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).