Ed Tech Trends

Report: Broadband Gap in Schools Narrows

Report: Broadband Gap in Schools Narrows 

More than 10 million students gained access to high-speed Internet at school last year, bringing the total to 34.9 million. However, 11.6 million students are still languishing on the other side of the broadband divide, according to the 2016 State of the States report from EducationSuperHighway.

The nonprofit group partners with governors and state agencies to identify school districts in need of Internet service upgrades and help them source options. EducationSuperHighway today released its second-annual State of the States report, which details gains in K-12 broadband connectivity and examines the factors contributing to those gains. It then delves into the issue of the connectivity gap and offers suggestions to further reduce that gap.

First, the good news:

  • 88 percent of school districts now meet the FCC's minimum Internet access goal of 100 kilobits per second (Kbps) per student, up from 76 percent in 2015;
  • 5 states — Hawaii, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming — have connected 100 percent of their students to high-speed broadband;
  • 34.9 million students now have at least 100 Kbps per student Internet at school, up from 24.5 million in 2015;
  • 15 percent of school districts have already met the FCC's goal of 1 megabit per second (Mbps) per student by 2018;
  • 95 percent of schools now have a fiber-optic connection, which is critical for scaling up bandwidth in the future; and
  • 83 percent of schools have sufficient WiFi in classrooms.

Then, the bad:

  • 19,208 schools serving 11.6 million students still do not meet the FCC's minimum Internet access goal of 100 Kbps per student, although these numbers have improved significantly since 2015;
  • 3,723, mostly in rural areas, lack the fiber-optic infrastructure required to meet broadband targets; and
  • 15,092 schools have insufficient WiFi in classrooms.

The report also goes into considerable depth on the issue of cost, the number one reason why many schools aren't meeting broadband targets. According to the report, "districts that do not meet the FCC's 100 kbps per student minimum threshold pay 2.3 times more for their bandwidth than districts meeting the FCC goal." The report goes on to say that, "the path to connecting these students is not to lower the school districts' monthly costs, but rather to significantly increase the bandwidth they receive for the amount they (or their states) are already spending on Internet access."

Internet service providers (ISPs) have been crucial to gains made in K-12 connectivity. According to the report, technological advancements have enabled service providers to upgrade school bandwidth without increasing costs. In 2016, "39 percent of districts were able to upgrade while also lowering or maintaining their monthly cost for Internet access." ISPs have also improved broadband accessibility by extending their networks to underserved schools.

Despite the gains, work remains to be done. The report concludes with action plans for governors, service providers and school districts, detailing steps each of these groups can take to accelerate broadband upgrades in schools.

The State of the States report is based on analysis of 2016 FCC E-rate data, which represents 10,499 school districts, 73,000 schools and more than 38 million students.

The full report is available as a free, downloadable PDF from EducationSuperHighway's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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