Is the school connectivity gap closed?
The classroom connectivity gap has been closed. Now, 99% of U.S. schools have adequate internet access, according to EducationSuperhighway, a nonprofit that formed in 2012 to ensure that all students can participate in digital learning.
That means about 46.3 million students can connect to high-speed internet, the organization says in its “State of the States” report. About 750 schools have yet to reach the goal set by the Federal Communications Commission: a minimum of 100 kilobits per second.
A modernized E-rate program and matching funds from governors have enabled service providers to install tens of thousands of miles of new fiber to connect schools, EducationSuperhighway CEO Evan Marwell said in the report, which details the progress made by schools in each state.
Earlier this year, a report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association—“State K-12 Broadband Leadership 2019: Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success”—examined how states can support districts in acquiring adequate infrastructure, bandwidth capacity and wireless networks.
“This report highlights what states are doing so that their districts can tap into all the available resources that they’re working to provide,” Christine Fox, deputy executive director of SETDA and study co-author, told District Administration in April. “The approaches vary greatly, but from our perspective, we’re encouraged that states are providing that leadership and pushing the envelope so that no district or school is left behind.”
For example, the Massachusetts Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant, a matching grant program, provides funding to public school districts to ensure robust internal and external connectivity. State are also coordinating with libraries. Missouri’s local libraries offer rental devices and mobile hot spots to patrons. Nebraska’s libraries leave Wi-Fi routers on after hours so students can access the internet from the parking lot.
Some school leaders have solved the problem on their own.
Scott Bailey, superintendent of Desert Sands USD in California, told DA earlier this year that his team spearheaded a public-private partnership to retrofit seven local microwave towers to fill in broadband holes in the 752-square-mile attendance zone. Students bring home a Mi-Fi mobile hot spot device with their Chromebooks to connect to the service, which costs about $50,000 per year to operate.
Ready for 5G wireless?
School administrators should prepare for 5G wireless service, which should be widely available in 2020. The service’s faster download speeds and reduced power (device battery) requirements are designed to handle the vast number of devices needing mobile connectivity in schools, DA Chief Information and Innovation Officer Lenny Schad wrote in July.
“5G will enable smaller, inexpensive devices and sensors to easily connect, which means the Internet of Things (IoT) will see a massive uptick in service offerings currently unavailable,” Schad wrote.
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