Schools, public libraries depend on e-Rate dollars for bandwidth connections
As the deadline to submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on ways to improve the federal eRate program wrapped up on Sept. 16, ed-tech advocacy groups and associations made final attempts to emphasize how crucial adequate high-speed broadband connections are for teaching and learning.
Coinciding with the comment deadline is the release of a Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) study revealing that 99 percent of the 450 K-12 districts surveyed need greater internet bandwidth within the next 36 months, and 93 percent of districts believe the current e-Rate program does not meet their needs.
Acknowledging that the e-Rate has indeed put basic internet connections and functionality into classrooms, CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said that “going forward, our students need stronger, faster networks, so they can build their critical thinking and imaginative skills and compete on a level playing field with their global peers.”
Additional survey data indicate that just 57 percent of elementary schools, and 64 percent of secondary schools, have all of their classrooms fully equipped with wireless connections. Districts cited ongoing costs and initial investments as their two biggest barriers.
While the e-Rate serves students in classrooms across the country, it also helps “non-traditional” students, such as those who are home-schooled, pursing GEDs, and remote students whose primary form of learning is online. These students, along with others, depend on public libraries for reliable internet connections.
Public libraries play an important “wraparound” role in supporting K-12 students, said Marijke Visser, the associate director of the American Library Association‘s (ALA) Program on Networks, which submitted comments about the program. “Kids are in the classroom, and then what happens to their learning opportunities outside of the traditional school day?” she asked.
(Next page: How can e-Rate funding help? Plus, what ed-tech groups are saying.)