Broadband in schools gets boost from tech gurus

Gates, Zuckerburg give $9 million to nonprofit working to improve school broadband connectivity

72 percent of America’s public schools lack the broadband they need for digital learning, EducationSuperHighway says.

The effort to get broadband access in every school is getting a boost from the philanthropy of two technology gurus: Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education and Gates’ foundation have contributed a combined $9 million to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway. The San Francisco-based organization is working to improve connectivity in schools.

“When schools and teachers have access to reliable internet connections, students can discover new skills and ideas beyond the classroom,” said Zuckerberg in a statement. “The future of our economy and society depend largely on the next generation using and building new online tools and services, and I’m glad to support EducationSuperHighway’s work.”

Nearly every school has internet access, but for many that doesn’t include classrooms or the connections are super slow. That makes it difficult to video conference scientists with students or to have digital learning programs on tablets such as iPads.

President Barack Obama’s goal is to have 99 percent of students connected to superfast internet within five years. The Federal Communications Commission is weighing changes to the eRate program to increase broadband connectivity in schools.

(Next page: How the donations will support broadband in schools)

EducationSuperHighway is encouraging state and local policy makers to join 26 states and thousands of school districts in the effort to bring broadband access to America’s students. The first step is to take an inventory of the internet access available to their students by participating in the organization’s free National SchoolSpeedTest.

In addition, EducationSuperHighway encourages K-12 superintendents and school board members to contact their local representatives to voice their support for modernizing the eRate program.

72 percent of U.S. schools lack needed bandwidth

Over the last 12 months, 600,000 students, teachers, and administrators have taken one minute to test their school’s internet access as part of EducationSuperHighway’s National SchoolSpeedTest. The results to date show that 72 percent of America’s public schools lack the broadband they need for digital learning.

Twenty-six state departments of education are already participating in the free SchoolSpeedTest program, and EducationSuperHighway hopes to run programs with the remaining states by the end of the school year. Whether or not a state department of education is participating, any member of a school community (a teacher, student, administrator, or parent) can test their school’s internet access by running the one-minute test at

Besides offering the internet speed test, EducationSuperHighway says 90 percent of school districts will require outside technical expertise to upgrade to 100 Mbps infrastructure. The organization will support schools in two ways:

(1) Sharing networking best practices.

EducationSuperHighway is developing a “Network Cookbook” that will share high-speed networking best practices among schools and districts in easy-to-implement steps, so they can configure their existing hardware for maximum efficiency and implement future upgrades successfully.

(2) Providing technical expertise to schools.

The organization’s “Education Geek Squad” provides direct support to high-need schools and districts, and it’s developing what it calls “long-term solutions” to enable schools to manage their network infrastructure independently.

“By providing top-tier networking support to local IT coordinators and at-need schools without networking staff, our Geek Squad helps schools assess their current networking infrastructure, plan for sufficient growth to meet their student needs, and deploy high-speed internet infrastructure,” EducationSuperHighway says.

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