Currently, the FCC is trying to improve the eRate by not only increasing funding, but prioritizing and streamlining operations to get needy schools the funds they need. (Read: “3 immediate ways the eRate is improving for schools.”)
“This is not a forever problem, but it is a problem right now because it’s a huge transition schools are making in mobile learning, testing and more,” said Harrington. “The FCC is trying to help secure that federal funding but many states and local communities are also helping.”
To help schools and districts offset their internet and infrastructure funding needs, many local communities have begun offering discounts to schools through local telecommunications providers.
“Many communities are allowing schools to tie into their local fiber optic network,” said Harrington.
Some states even have their own state eRate program, such as in Maine.
“They assess a small extra fee on in-state communications to fund a program to support schools and libraries’ equipment costs,” Windhausen explained.
Another way to address the need for internal internet connections inside the school is for the state to adopt a public-private partnership with industry.
“Let’s face it, the private sector benefits when children use their technology in the school, because they become familiar with the technology and purchase it after they graduate,” noted Windhausen. “States can, and should, corral the private sector companies to make donations of equipment and services now with the expectation it will lead to more technology-savvy workers later in life. This is what President Obama has done with the ConnectED initiative, and once we find out where these donations will be made, states should fill in the gaps with their own state initiatives.”
States such as Oklahoma, North Carolina, Maine, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, and California have also created statewide broadband networks dedicated to serving the needs of schools and other anchor institutions.
Windhausen emphasized that the Federal BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) that came out of the stimulus bill (the ARRA) in 2009 provided seed funding to many of these statewide research and education networks that allowed them to deploy fiber optic networks out to anchor institutions, including schools.
“In some states, 90 percent of schools now have a fiber connection, but in other states only 25 percent of schools have fiber. The FCC is now considering reforms to the e-rate program to bring other states up to speed.”
“States should do more to deploy broadband not just for the [Common Core] but for long-term economic growth and improved quality of life for people and the community,” he continued. “Government at all levels—state, federal and local—should recognize that deploying broadband is an important investment in the future.”
Fiber optic networks can last for decades once they are built, and they can be upgraded at a minimal cost simply by changing the electronics at either end of the fiber, said Windhausen.
“Policy-makers tend to respond to an emergency, so if the Common Core standards are the ‘crisis’ that convinces policy-makers to make smart long-term investment in broadband networks, then so be it.”