This year’s E-rate cycle may be over, but in order to be well prepared for the next one, now is the time to start the connectivity conversation with your school district. In today’s classrooms, high-speed internet is no longer an option; it has become a necessity.

Digital learning helps students grasp concepts more fully, and not having access to the wealth of information found in online videos, apps, and curriculum puts these students at an immediate disadvantage to their connected peers. As schools increasingly turn to digital learning, all classrooms must have reliable, fast internet connections in order to prepare students sufficiently for future challenges like college and the job market.

While dramatic progress has been made in closing the connectivity gap in our public schools, there are still 6.5 million K-12 students who lack access to high-speed classroom internet, leaving them unprepared or underprepared for the world’s digital expectations.

School districts play a key role in continuing to bridge that gap, which is why planning for greater connectivity is so crucial.

So how can school districts begin these connectivity conversations? Here are three questions to help start the discussions:

1. What deals have internet providers offered other school districts in your area?
Understanding your district’s broadband costs is important, whether you’re inquiring for your own reference or to convince colleagues of the importance of a network upgrade. You can find that comparative district pricing on Compare & Connect K-12, a first-of-its kind free online tool that offers unprecedented transparency into nationwide school district broadband and bandwidth-pricing data. You may find that your pricing is comparable to similarly sized districts in your area. If it is higher, however, it may be time to search for a new provider or negotiate with your current one.

(Next page: More tips for jumpstarting the connectivity discussion)

2. Which digital learning tools do teachers in your district wish they could use?
Research has demonstrated that interactive digital learning tools boost retention rates and test scores, being far more engaging and memorable than voluminous textbooks or one-sided lectures. Often, teachers have a vision for the types of technology tools and applications they’d like to offer students, but do not have the resources.

Starting the conversation by asking teachers which tools would best equip their students for digital learning could help shape your decisions about how much broadband you need, the type of infrastructure that is required, and how to make sure that infrastructure is scalable. It can be helpful to know not only what teachers are using now, but also what they are likely to use in the coming school years.

3. What are the particular barriers to higher, more reliable internet speeds for your district?
Gaps in school connectivity could exist for a variety of reasons. For example, in rural districts, building out the necessary infrastructure might be a daunting or unaffordable prospect. In districts with a high population of low-income students, the perceived cost of a connectivity upgrade may be a deterrent.

3 tips for jumpstarting your district’s connectivity discussion

Identifying exactly what it is that has kept your district from getting the connectivity it needs can help you arrive at possible solutions. For example, 19 states have taken advantage of the unprecedented opportunity to assist school districts that need fiber construction. The E-rate program will match state funds, making high-speed internet access an affordable–and sometimes free–opportunity.

Better connectivity is not just important; it is attainable. Only by working together can governors, state leaders, and school districts succeed in closing the connectivity gap and providing all students with equal access to digital-learning opportunities. By getting this conversation started, you are setting your district up on a path to digital-learning success that will positively impact students for years to come.

My nonprofit, EducationSuperHighway, is on a mission to connect every public school classroom in America and works closely with school districts, state leaders, and service providers to help schools upgrade their internet access. We have worked with nearly 1,000 school districts this year and with governors in 24 states covering more than 22 million students.

About the Author:

Evan Marxwell is a serial entrepreneur, having started companies over the last 25 years in the telecom, software, hedge fund, and consumer retailing industries. Marxwell founded the non-profit EducationSuperHighway in 2012. In its first three years, the organization helped shape President Obama’s ConnectED initiative and served as a catalyst for modernization of the Federal Communications Commission’s $3.9 billion E-rate program, earning Marxwell the 2015 Visionary of the Year award from the San Francisco Chronicle.