Slow Internet Speeds Still a Problem at NYC Public Middle Schools, Audit Finds

Despite both public efforts by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and private efforts, internet speeds are still slow and a problem at New York City’s public middle schools, according to a recent audit of high-speed internet connectivity in these schools.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted in the audit report’s executive summary that the DOE “began to upgrade the broadband technology in schools in 2007. At that time, the agency commenced the process of installing fiber optic cabling, connections and network components required to support high data rates. DOE’s goal was to provide high-speed internet connectivity and install wireless technology in all of [NYC’s] public schools and thereby deliver improved connectivity and performance, enhanced access, capacity and security.”

In May 2016, more than 500 of the DOE’s schools were reported as having met high-speed internet connectivity standards. However, according to the Office of the New York City Comptroller, the agency “could not provide the total dollar amount budgeted or the total dollar amount expended for the broadband initiative for middle schools from 2007 through the completion of the initiative in 2016.” The auditors found that the DOE budgeted about $347.6 million of the $926.8 million available for 2010-2014 specifically for broadband connectivity to all of its facilities and said the agency added another $650 million for 2015-2019.

To gauge how effective the city’s plan turned out, the auditors administered a “User Satisfaction Survey” of middle school principals and staff.

Key findings include:

  • 33 percent of respondents were “not satisfied” with their school’s current internet service;
  • 45 percent answered that “the speed of internet service in middle schools did not meet their instructional needs”; and
  • 25 percent stated the internet service was “adequate.”

The office concluded that while every public middle school “had fiber optic connection to support high-speed internet,” the DOE had “failed to put adequate controls and oversight in place to ensure that the system-wide upgrade was completed properly, within budget, with appropriate documentation, and with adequate managerial oversight,” the report states. For example, the DOE said it did not have any documentation or proof of project plans during the time the audit was conducted.

The office has made a number of recommendations to New York City’s DOE to solve issues of slow internet and spotty reporting — ranging from maintaining a “project governance structure” for IT projects, to proactively partnering with schools to help them meet their instructional goals — which can be found in the report.

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