Networking & Wireless

SETDA Report Urges States To Dig into High-Speed Broadband Work

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), America's new education law, isn't the only proponent of state control over K-12 educational activities. A new report by the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and Common Sense Kids Action advocates that states play a bigger role in increasing access to high-speed connectivity for students and teachers. And that's essential, the report stated, for "creating and delivering the deeper learning experiences intended to prepare today's students for college and careers, and to compete in a global economy."

"State K-12 Broadband Leadership: Driving Connectivity and Access" lays out the importance of broadband policies, networks and funding at the state level for delivering high-speed and Wi-Fi access for all students, not just in schools, but also in communities and homes. The report provides examples of states that have shown leadership in a number of areas: K-12 broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity; infrastructure, broadband implementation and advocacy for federal support of broadband.

The report quotes from the Federal Communications Commission's 2016 Broadband Progress Report, which stated that more than four in 10 schools (41 percent) still haven't met the FCC's short-term goal (based on earlier SETDA guidance) that delivers at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 users, and few schools have met the long-term goal of 1 Gbps/1,000 users for connectivity capable of supporting digital learning applications. The FCC also found that out-of-school access continues to be elusive; 10 percent of Americans lack access to speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads and nearly 40 percent of people in rural areas and tribal lands lack access to adequate broadband.

One pocket of on-going progress profiled is New Mexico, where Governor Susana Martinez introduced a "Broadband for Education" initiative last October that calls for delivering 1 Mbps/student by 2018. Currently, that work is focused on aggregating E-rate Category 2 buying of Wi-Fi and networking equipment in school districts and libraries. Alabama has offered a "mini-quote" system to New Mexico, which, as the report described, "functions like 'EBay in reverse,'", whereby companies openly compete on price in response to district requests against a statewide master contract. The state estimates that the approach could save schools $3 million in a single E-rate cycle. Also, multiple state agencies are coordinating with non-profits to leverage E-rate funding.

Although states play a significant role in directly building up education-grade broadband, the report noted, they can also perform a "pivotal role" in pushing for federal policies and funding to support digital learning too. SETDA cited its members' contributions to the 2014 E-rate modernization process as evidence. Their work included participation in focus groups, meetings with FCC staff members and submission of public comments for rulemaking. SETDA members also pushed for increased funding, a streamlining of the E-rate application process and additional flexibility for spending — most of which showed up in the final E-rate modernization regulations.

"Something is wrong when coffee shops have faster Internet connections than most of our schools," said James Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense, in a prepared statement. "Policymakers in state capitals and in Washington, D.C. are facing the fact that critical funding is necessary to support the continued adoption of technology in classrooms throughout the country. With the use of advances in technology for learning and for administration, we must do everything we can now to finish the job of connecting every classroom and library."

SETDA said that later this spring it would release another report with updated recommendations for minimum broadband capacity targets compared to those in its 2012 "Broadband Imperative" report and the network design necessary to achieve these targets. It will also offer guidance on addressing home Internet access and community partnerships.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.