Report: Schools Improve Broadband but Lag on Long-Term Goals
The broadband situation in K–12 has improved substantially in the last four years, with most systems reporting that their schools meet or exceed the short-term broadband target of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students set by the FCC. But the goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students is still distant for most.
Progress Toward Broadband Goals
Eighty percent of school systems surveyed in a new research project by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) reported that at least three-quarters of their schools meet the 100 Mbps short-term goal that's part of the FCC's E-rate Modernization Order. That's quadruple the number from just four years ago. And 68 percent of school systems reported that all of their schools meet that goal.
However, according to the report, "CoSN's 2016 Annual Infrastructure Survey," which was conducted in partnership with AASA: The School Superintendents Association and MDR, schools are lagging severely in meeting the longer-term broadband goal set by the FCC at 1 Gbps per 1,000 students. In the CoSN survey, more than half of school systems — 54 percent — indicated that none of their schools yet meet that goal (though that's down from 68 percent last year).
On the positive side, 15 percent of school systems participating in the study reported that all of their schools meet the 1 Gbps long-term goal (up about 87.5 percent from last year), and about a third (33 percent) reported that at least half of their schools meet the long-term goal already.
About 51 percent of districts have set a goal of achieving at least the 1 Gbps per 1,000 student mark in the next three years; but a full 15 percent have a target of just 100 Mbps in that timeframe, with another 13 percent saying their existing bandwidth is just fine as it is.
High Costs Still the No. 1 Factor
What's impeding progress for many is cost, particularly in rural areas.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents cited cost as the No. 1 barrier for faster broadband, specifically recurring monthly charges. And while affordability has improved somewhat — 46 percent of respondents pay less than $5 per month per Mbps — overall costs remain high for most, with 38 percent paying $5 to $49.99 per month and a whopping 16 percent paying $50 or more per Mbps per month (though that's half the number from the 2014 survey).
In rural areas, the situation is worse, with 23 percent paying more than $50 per Mbps per month and 43 percent paying $5 to $49.99 per Mbps per month.
The Need for Speed
Most school systems see an increasing need for broadband access in the near future, with 75 percent saying they'll see increases in demand for Internet access in the next 18 months. More than a quarter of respondents — 27 percent — said the increase will be 100 percent to 499 percent above current demand, and another 4 percent said demand would skyrocket to 500 percent within 18 months.
Driving that demand are:
- More students with devices;
- Online assessments (the No. 1 driver for rural schools);
- Digital content (the No. 2 driver for rural schools);
- More devices per student; and
- Mobile learning.
The complete report, with additional data points, insights into E-rate usage, wireless connectivity statistics, information on cloud computing and more can be accessed freely at CoSN.org.