How 2 states are making school broadband a priority

By Laura Devaney, Director of News, @eSN_Laura
October 28th, 2015

As digital tools play an increasingly larger role in learning, states are targeting school broadband access for all students

school-broadbandAs high-speed broadband internet becomes critical for student success in and beyond the classroom, a number of state education leaders are forging partnerships to strengthen school broadband throughout their districts.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock have both announced partnerships with the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway in order to bring high-speed internet to every classroom in their state.

Working with state leaders is a key factor in pushing these school broadband partnerships to success, said EducationSuperHighway founder and CEO Evan Marwell.

“States are key to finishing the job and getting schools upgraded,” Marwell said. “When you can work with governors, you can clear roadblocks to going to scale.”

In forging school broadband partnerships with state governors, the EducationSuperHighway team helps them identify the problems and obstacles around high-speed school internet connectivity, and then helps each governor formulate a plan guided by three steps.

“We tell governors to get fiber or a scalable connection to all schools lacking one, to put wi-fi in every classroom, and to make school broadband more affordable. If you solve those three problems, all your kids and teachers will have access,” Marwell said.

In New Mexico, more than 30 percent of state districts lack high-speed school broadband. Gov. Martinez plans to leverage $49 million in appropriated state funds, along with support from state agencies and EducationSuperHighway, over the next several years to connect every classroom to high-speed internet by 2018.

“I have always believed that every child can learn – no matter their circumstances or background. But as leaders, we must also give our students the tools they need to succeed. In 2015, that means providing every school with access to high-speed internet,” Gov. Martinez said in a statement. “For many of New Mexico’s kids, this commitment will be a game-changer, allowing our students to access tools and content where it matters most: in the classroom.”

Part of the state’s plan to connect classrooms include building fiber-optic connections in districts, upgrading wi-fi inside schools, and buying internet bandwidth in bulk.

Montana state leaders are working to address the challenges the state’s rural areas pose for education and broadband connectivity. The state will issue a report on the challenges and opportunities for broadband within K-12 schools, and EducationSuperHighway will work with state offices to create an action plan to put high-speed internet into all the state’s schools.

“We are committed to making sure each school – rural or urban, big or small – has equal access to the promise of digital learning,” Gov. Bullock said during a September press conference.

Initial data shows that upgrading to fiber optic connections could help more than 160 state schools. EducationSuperHighway is already working with Montana’s Missoula County Public Schools to help upgrade the district’s broadband.

“We simply cannot continue operating with 500 elementary students sharing 100 Mbps of bandwidth. We are excited to receive the support of EducationSuperHighway to help us meet new bandwidth targets,” said Hatton Littman, Director of Technology and Communications for Missoula County Public Schools.

The nonprofit worked to create awareness around the issue of school broadband connectivity, including working with President Obama to launch the ConnectEd initiative and to urge the Federal Communications Commission to modernize the E-rate program.

“We’re now in a position to actually start driving upgrades,” Marwell said. “There are a whole bunch of schools that are doing a lot better; I attribute a lot of that to the FCC, to President Obama, and to ed-tech organizations making a big deal out of this and releasing connectivity standards. We have to get every school to 100 kbps per student–that’s the minimum. School broadband affordability is critical. But there are still plenty of districts that don’t know where to start.”