The internet is speeding up – and schools are demanding faster connections

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As student learning changes, so too does the connectivity that is necessary to power it.

Put simply, the E-rate program is paramount to schools and libraries. Driven by the need for more responsive and reliable internet connections, school districts across America are investing in faster internet connections and turning to the E-rate program for help.

Last year, the average school district spent $129,510 to connect their schools to the internet. This year, that number surged to $158,132 – a big chunk of change. That means that for FY2016, school districts are spending 23 percent more on internet access than in FY2015.

More than 95 percent of schools rely on the federal E-rate funding program to subsidize the cost of their internet access. On average, each school district receives a 76 percent E-rate discount that can be put towards the monthly cost of their internet connections. Normally, these connections are composed of a network of services that includes a high-speed internet connection to the school district’s central office, along with additional data lines that transmit information to individual school buildings.

Big Changes

What’s causing this number to jump so high? Well, the big increase in internet spending comes because schools (and city libraries) are driving up the speed of their internet connections. In the most recent E-rate filing window, applicants submitted requests for over 119,000 fast internet connections. When compared to last year, there has been a decline in the number of 1 Mbps and 10 Mbps connections, and an increase in the number of 100 Mbps (or higher) connections. Most dramatically, the number of one Gbps (1,000 Mbps) connections more than doubled. In 2015, applicants reported 22,272 such connections, and in 2016, they reported 47,333.

Defining the Need

As schools request faster internet, they’re responding to the need for their schools. Today’s schools are now driven by the adoption of new internet-based curriculum, administration and testing that is taking place all across the country. Schools and libraries are scrambling to match their needs for internet speeds as more users, and more devices, come online, and as they use more engaging, media-rich content.

What’s Next

For the foreseeable future, we expect to see internet speeds continue to climb. Over the next year, most schools will move away entirely from internet connections that are less than 100 Mbps. In fact, it is likely that within three years, the majority of connections will be 1 Gbps or higher.

Internet connectivity will remain important need for schools and libraries across the country. It’s crucial we continue to champion the E-rate program, so future generations have the tools and connections they need to succeed.

John Harrington is the CEO of Funds for Learning, a consulting company based in Oklahoma that helps schools navigate the E-rate application process.

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