CoSN Survey: Only 9 Percent of Districts Have Adequate Bandwidth

Keith KruegerResults from the Consortium for School Networking’s 2nd Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey reveal gaps in U.S. school districts’ broadband and technology infrastructure. The report, which is part of CoSN’s Smart Education Networks by Design initiative, identifies affordability and adequate funding as the most significant barriers to delivering sufficient Internet connectivity to schools. Other challenges identified include a lack of capacity to ensure the network reliability needed for online assessments and instruction, and grossly inadequate networks in the nation’s rural school districts.

CoSN, the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and MDR collected data from K-12 school leaders and technology directors in 47 states. (Delaware, Rhode Island, Utah and the District of Columbia did not participate). More than 1,000 district leaders and technology directors contributed to the survey, and respondents were representative of urban, rural and suburban districts as well as large, medium and small districts. The report is intended to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its forthcoming decisions regarding the E-rate program’s long-term funding needs and focus. 

Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN (pictured), said, “This survey boldly underscores that our nation has a funding and bandwidth crisis. The FCC’s short- and long-term goals for connectivity will not be reached until there is a substantial increase in funding to meet the unmet needs of school districts across the nation, particularly in rural districts.” 

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, added, “The results of this survey affirm what we have long advocated: The E-rate program remains deeply underfunded, a resource gap that – absent a permanent funding increase – will work to widen connectivity gaps and undermine E-rate’s proven success.”

According to the survey, more than 80 percent of districts indicated that the E-rate program’s current funding levels are not meeting their needs. This is the second year that districts noted the significant gap between E-rate funding and requirements. Only 9 percent of the districts reported having adequate bandwidth to fully meet the demand for online assessments and digital content that they anticipate over the next 18 months. 

Here are some of the other key findings of the survey.

Funding and Costs

Sixty percent of districts reported that funding is the biggest obstacle to meeting the FCC’s short-term goal of 100Mbps per 1,000 students. More than half of districts reported that the FCC’s decision to phase out E-rate support for voice and other services will have a significant negative fiscal impact. 

The cost of connectivity in rural districts is higher than in urban and suburban districts. For example, 10 percent of rural districts pay more than $250 per Mbps per month, and the cost can be as high as $800 per Mbps per month. By contrast, 37 percent of the rural districts pay $10 or less per Mbps per month, while 49 percent of urban or suburban districts pay $10 or less per Mbps per month. Meanwhile, WAN costs in suburban and urban districts are significantly higher due to the need for individual connections to each building in a district. 

Lack of Capacity

More than one third of the districts reported having three or more days of downtime a year for Internet services. Forty-five percent of school districts indicated that they do not have the capacity to deploy a 1-to-1 initiative, and a quarter of districts reported that no school in their district could meet the FCC’s short-term goal of 100Mbps per 1,000 students.

The Last Mile Challenge

Rural schools reported slower internal data connections: only 65 percent of rural districts said their typical connection between data switches and router was 1Gbps or greater. The figure for urban or suburban districts was 80 percent.  

WiFi in rural districts is much less likely to meet current technical standards. Only one quarter of rural districts have wireless access points (WAPs) that support the most current standards (802.11n or 802.11ac), while 59 percent of urban or suburban districts have WAPs that meet those standards.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.

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