Most schools need more broadband to handle mobile deployments and say eRate doesn’t meet their technology needs

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Nearly one-third of school districts (29 percent) did not apply for federal eRate assistance because they assumed the program would have insufficient funds for their needs, according to a new survey on school eRate and broadband needs from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

The current eRate funding level fails to meet schools’ broadband infrastructure needs, and almost half of responding districts (43 percent) said none of their schools are equipped to meet the goal of having 100 Mbps of internet access per 1,000 students as things are today. Only 25 percent of school districts said 100 percent of their schools meet this goal, which has been adopted and championed by the State Education Technology Directors Association, the LEAD Commission Blueprint, and by President Obama’s ConnectED initiative.

(Next page: How many districts can support broadband connectivity?)

District technology leaders said that bandwidth access is their top priority when it comes to eRate funding, and behind that, making sure schools have wireless internet access.

As they are today, school networks can’t support broadband because of infrastructure problems such as connections and wiring, local area network (LAN) backbones, and wireless issues.

This leads to more problems in schools, including:

  • Fifty-seven percent of districts said they don’t think their school’s wireless networking can support a one-to-one deployment. “And as the new 802.11ac standard, with even faster speeds, rolls out this year, it will further disadvantage those with slower a/b/g access points,” according to the report.
  • Half of school buildings have older wiring that will not carry data at broadband speeds.
  • Twenty-six percent of districts use slower backbones, such as copper or wireless, in school LANs. “The backbones in school LANs are another serious problem. Twenty-six percent of districts are using slower copper backbones and 2.3 percent are using wireless backbones in their school LAN,” according to the report. “The backbone in a school LAN provides the high speed connection from the point that broadband enters the building to connecting points throughout the building. Like a major vein or artery to the heart, the backbone must be able to collect and distribute data at high speeds or the entire system fails.”

Of noticeable concern is the divide between rural, suburban, and urban districts. Rural schools pay six times more for connections than other schools or districts, and very large school districts with more than 50,000 students spend three times more for wide area networks. Given these differences, the study notes that a one-size per-pupil eRate formula won’t meet the needs of all these different districts.

These are the final results from a September 2013 survey “preview” CoSN issued. Additional final results include:

  • Ninety-nine percent of districts need more internet bandwidth and connectivity in the next 36 months
  • Ninety-three percent of districts said the current eRate funding formula does not fully meet their needs
  • The biggest barriers facing schools are monthly costs (79 percent) and upfront expenses (59 percent)
  • Just 57 percent of elementary schools and 64 percent of secondary schools have all classrooms fully equipped for wireless internet
  • Forty-four percent of districts said they participate in consortium buying, including 37 percent for bandwidth

CoSN received 469 survey responses from 44 states. It partnered with MDR to collect responses in August and September of 2013. This is the first-ever CoSN eRate survey, which offers insight on bandwidth-related access and connectivity in U.S. schools.

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