A large majority of E-rate applicants (87 percent) said the federally funded program is vital to their internet connectivity goals, according to an annual survey that tracks program applicants’ perspectives on the program.
In the midst of leadership changes in the White House and the FCC, as well as education budget cuts, ed-tech stakeholders have raised questions regarding the promise of the E-rate program to deliver safe and proper broadband connections to students in the U.S.
According to initial feedback from Funds For Learning’s annual E-rate applicant survey, E-rate recipients continue to rely on E-rate funding to provide connectivity for schools and libraries across the nation.
Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents said they have faster internet connections to their sites because of E-rate, and 78 percent said they were able to connect more students and library patrons to the internet because of the E-rate program.
“Certainly, the E-rate program is not without its challenges, but the fundamental nature of the program remains as strong as ever,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning. “While the political climate has shifted, one thing has remained the same: E-rate is vital and will continue to play an indispensable role in connecting schools and communities.”
(Next page: How one school is putting E-rate funding to work)
This year, approximately 1,100 applicants completed the Funds For Learning survey, representing about 5 percent of all school and library applicants nationwide. Full survey results will be available in the fall.
In CoSN’s 2016 Infrastructure Survey, respondents revealed that, for the fourth year in a row, school systems identify cost of ongoing recurring expenses as the biggest barrier to robust connectivity. In fact, this number increased from 46 percent in 2015 to 57 percent in 2016–another reason E-rate funding remains critical to schools’ connectivity.
Schools and districts routinely turn to E-rate funding for affordable and state-of-the-art technologies, including centrally-managed gigabit Wi-Fi platforms that leverage the cloud, and switches that can easily scale up as demand increases—which it inevitably will.
One such example is Columbia Public Schools, a Missouri school district that covers 300 square miles between St. Louis and Kansas City and serves 18,000 students. As Christine Diggs, director of Technology Services for Columbia Public Schools, points out, “Fast and reliable Wi-Fi access is now simply an imperative for delivering a 21st century education.”
Columbia Public Schools provides a device for every two students, with the eventual goal of equipping each student with their own Apple iPad. School-issued devices and use of other mobile devices were placing a heavy demand on their existing network, which could not be counted on to reliably deliver digital educational content when needed.
The district resolved these challenges by investing in gigabit Wi-Fi—1,400 Wave 2 access points and 100 controllers. This new, robust Wi-Fi network architecture fully supports more than 20,000 Wi-Fi connected devices and a wide range of applications and services, including teacher evaluations, classroom collaboration, guest access, student information systems, Google Apps, scientific simulators, video streaming, and IP-based security cameras.