Schools need faster Internet connections, more bandwidth — report

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Schools across the country — especially in rural areas — are facing Internet challenges ranging from slow connection speeds to inadequate bandwidth despite an infusion of cash into the Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate program, according to a new report.

The report, unveiled Tuesday by the Consortium for School Networking, found that nearly half of school districts surveyed could not afford the cost of connecting to the Internet. It also found that nearly a quarter of all schools have reached only 10 percent of the broadband goals set by the FCC, which is 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students, and 12 percent of all school leaders say their Internet providers are at capacity.

More than two-thirds of school systems do not have sufficient Internet bandwidth, and one in four reported Internet crashes for at least three days during the school year.

“Education is going digital, yet school system technology leaders face many challenges as they plan their education networks for the future,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said.

Digital inequity is a growing problem, especially once children leave school, according to the study, which was conducted in partnership with the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and MDR, an education marketing services company.

Though some school districts have come up with novel ideas, like installing Wi-Fi on buses, three out of four school districts surveyed do not have any off-campus strategies for connecting students at home and after school.

“While progress is happening, policymakers and educators will need to keep their eyes focused on continued investments in robust, reliable education networks with broadband access and Wi-Fi to enable digital learning and address issues of digital equity,” Krueger added.

E-Rate, which provides schools with subsidies for high-speed broadband access, underwent a major overhaul this year when the funding was capped to a whopping $3.9 billion. According to the FCC, about 40 percent of the money went toward upgrading internal connections while 23 percent paid for telecom services. Twenty-one percent went toward Internet access.

About half of district leaders surveyed had positive views to the E-Rate changes.

The answers help school administrators and technology leaders understand the different challenges they face as schools are handing more devices to students and technology becomes a central component of learning.

The report found that 40 percent of school systems allow one device for every two students and 28 percent offer one device per student. The schools projected a dramatic increase in the number of devices within the next three years – 55 percent expect students to have access to two or more devices, while 20 percent anticipate students to use even three or more devices.

“It is clear that school systems need to plan for robust, ubiquitous learning environments, often with students accessing multiple devices,” according to the report.

The report is based on answers from 530 respondents across 48 states, which represent urban, rural and suburban school districts.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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