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e-Rate advocates: More funding for internet connections

Schools, public libraries depend on e-Rate dollars for bandwidth connections

internet-connectionsAs 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.)

Research indicates that students and young adults are using public libraries and their internet connections for all manner of tasks and opportunities, and the ALA is working to demonstrate public libraries’ importance when it comes to supporting the needs of all learners.

“We know we have a lot more wireless users in the library, and we know a lot of them are students coming to collaborate with other students, log onto portals, and more,” Visser said.

Rural students, in particular, rely on the internet connections they access in their public libraries, as do home-schooled students. In public libraries, they have access to high-speed internet connections to research projects, complete assignments, work in online groups with other students, and even can participate in virtual field trips.

“The connectivity is just the foundation for all of these things that can happen to support K-12 students,” Visser said. View the ALA’s comments to the FCC here.

Reply comments are due by October 16.

In its comments, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) outlined 10 specific recommendations for the FCC, concerning: robust student connectivity, affordable access, timely modernization and equipment, advanced eligible services, access goals and flexibility, educational goals and flexibility, anytime-anywhere learning, program efficiencies, program data, and the gift rule.

Click to view SIIA’s full comments.

An education coalition including Digital Learning Now! (DLN), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Alliance for Excellent Education, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Chiefs for Change, the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Knowledge Alliance submitted comments as well.

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