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Broadband Access Progress and Gaps for K-12 Students

The challenges facing America’s K-12 public schools often seem overwhelming.

But, there’s one trend that school leaders across the country can be proud of: More students have access to high-speed internet in schools than ever before.

According to the 2017 State of the States report from connectivity advocacy group Education Superhighway, the connectivity gap in schools was reduced by 84 percent between 2013 and 2017, resulting in more than 35 million students gaining access to high-speed internet.

How did this sudden jolt in connectivity happen?

Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Superhighway, attributes the success to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate modernization grant program, along with the hard work of state governors and local district leaders, and internet providers who have been flexible to accommodate schools’ needs:

“The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2014 E-rate modernization was the catalyst that gave way to a massive broadband expansion throughout America’s public education system. Across party lines and geographic boundaries, governors, state and district leaders, schools, and service providers have thoughtfully leveraged E-rate’s resources to make the promise of nationwide connectivity a tangible reality.”

Thanks to these efforts, there are currently 39.2 million students, as well as 2.6 million teachers, connected to high-speed internet in 74,000 schools throughout the country. Nine states have reportedly achieved full access for 100 percent of their students.

But challenges remain, says Education Superhighway.

More than 6.5 million students still don’t have access to affordable high-speed internet, the group reports. In addition, some 2,049 U.S. schools lack the fiberoptic infrastructure required for access and 10,000 schools need better access to Wi-Fi.

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For school district leaders without high-speed internet access in the classroom, or for those looking to improve on the access they already have, Education Superhighway outlines five steps for closing the connectivity gap:

  1. Assess future needs
    Education Superhighway suggests starting to plan new contracts with internet providers at least three years before the agreement will actually be enacted. That means examining your current needs and estimating future growth.
  2. Make sure you maximize E-rate application and RFP forms
    School leaders should work with technology experts to ensure their applications yield more competitive proposals from internet-service providers.
  3. Investigate deals made by similar districts
    Find out what peers in other districts are doing to maximize access and who they’re working with to get the job done.
  4. Shop around
    It doesn’t matter if you have a long relationship with a service provider. Do not be afraid to look for other options that are potentially cheaper or more efficient.
  5. Prioritize funding for broadband
    Certain E-rate programs will end in the next few years, Education Superhighway reminds school leaders. Districts should make broadband access and expanded connectivity a priority now to ensure they get the best value.

Despite the immense progress made in just four years, Education Superhighway isn’t resting on its laurels. Take a look at the campaign-style video they produced to achieve their goal of 100 percent high-speed access by 2020.

Is your school or district fully equipped with broadband and Wi-Fi access? If not, how are you making connectivity a priority in your classrooms? Tell us in the comments.