Less Than Half of US Schools Meet Internet Connectivity Targets

Parents, what would your reaction be if your child came home with a score of 46 percent on a test? You’d be either upset or concerned, maybe both, and look into ways to get your child’s grades up. Those of you without kids can just imagine how your own parents would have reacted if you got those results. While this may not be the case for your child, there’s a chance their school may be doing that poorly, which can hurt your child’s learning overall. According to EducationSuperHighway.org, a non-profit group that monitors school connectivity, only 46 percent of U.S. schools will meet their targets for connection speed this year. School Broadband Background In 2013, President Obama launched the ConnectED initiative with the goal of connecting 99 percent of American classrooms to “next generation” broadband within five years. More specifically, the program defines that next generation speed as “no less than 100 Mbps and with a target of 1 Gbps.” This job falls to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), with the E-rate program supplying some of the funding. The Department of Education will provide funding for the additional goal of providing training for teachers. Pessimistic Projections If EducationSuperHighway’s projections are accurate, ConnectED won’t succeed in meeting its objectives until 2020-2021, two to three years later than planned. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 37 percent of schools met connectivity objectives; the 46 percent number for the current school year is only an estimate. In some cases, schools may have adequate speed, but not bandwidth. Imagine the same connection speed you have at home, but split among hundreds of users. EducationSuperHighway says that the problem won’t improve until three things happen. 1. Every school has a fiber Internet connection. 2. Connectivity must be reasonably priced. 3. Every classroom has Wi-Fi. While fiber connections would allow schools to meet 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps goals, fiber is expensive to install. That cost is the largest barrier to its increased use, so aligning the group’s first and second prerequisites is more challenging than it might seem at first glance. Unequal Access Not surprisingly, poor and rural schools typically have slower Internet access than more affluent schools. And because poorer households aren’t as well connected as wealthier ones, low-income students are more dependent on schools both for Internet access and education. Experts have labeled this discrepancy the “digital divide,” and it’s likely to result in students graduating without the real-world skills they need. By the time today’s students enter the job market, digital literacy and skills will be necessities, making access today a critical issue. Does Your School Need a Broadband Tutor? Don’t assume your child’s school is one of those meeting its current targets. EducationSuperHighway offers a speed test tool that will let you find out for sure. If the school doesn’t fare well, speak with the administrators about whether they’re eligible to apply for E-rate funding. While it’s too late to get funding for this year, it’s never too early to think about next year. Photo Credit: Brett Levin/Flikr

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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