More and more students have access to high-speed internet in schools, but there are still students left without the connectivity they need to grow and learn, according to the annual State of the States report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway (ESH).
Today, 98 percent of public schools have next-generation fiber infrastructure, and 96 percent have enough internet connectivity to make digital learning possible in classrooms, says ESH CEO Evan Marwell in the report’s introduction.
Since 2013, 40.7 million more students have high-speed internet access–in 2013, just 4 million students were connected to the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 100kbps/student goal, and today, 44.7 million students have reached that access speed.
There are a few major reasons why the past five years have seen such a dramatic expansion in access to high-speed internet:
1. The E-rate modernization has drastically increased the number of schools receiving federal funding for wi-fi; before the modernization, just 14 percent of districts received E-rate funds, and after the 2014 modernization, 83 percent of districts receive federal wi-fi funding.
2. The report credits state leaders for their commitment to progress, noting that 49 governors have committed to upgrading schools’ broadband. State leaders have set statewide connectivity goals, have supported districts with procurement and technical expertise, have created state-matching funds for fiber construction, and have partnered with service providers to improve affordability and access to broadband.
3. School districts know that they can’t stop at 100kbps/student. The FCC’s bandwidth goal opens the door to digital learning opportunities, but it’s only the starting point. In the future, schools will need more bandwidth. Two-thirds of districts that hit the FCC’s goal continued boosting bandwidth, because once digital learning opportunities and digital resources enter a school, demand will continue to rise.
4. Service providers are lowering the cost of high-speed broadband for schools. The cost has continuously dropped since 2013 thanks to price transparency and technological improvements.
5. Infrastructure has come a long way. Each school needs a fiber-optic or alternative scalable bandwidth connection and a wi-fi access point in each classroom. In the last five years, according to the report, the number of schools without scalable broadband connections has shrunk by 94 percent.
Given these improvements, connecting the students in schools lacking high-speed wi-fi should be of top priority.
Of the 2.3 million students left to connect to high-speed internet, 1.9 million of them are in just 62 school districts, according to ESH’s report. Eighty-seven percent of these school districts, representing 1.7 million students, can upgrade to the FCC’s goal without spending any more money. Those districts could meet the 100kbps goal by obtaining the same bandwidth pricing as peer districts in their state.