Magazine article Technology & Learning

The State of E-Rate

Magazine article Technology & Learning

The State of E-Rate

Article excerpt

Now that the fanfare is over, it's time to ask what the largest U.S. edtech funding program has done for schools. According to the latest survey from the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), the answer is: not much yet (for the full report, go to cosn.org/Infrastructure2015).

For the third consecutive year, nearly half of the school systems surveyed identified the cost of ongoing recurring expenses as their biggest barrier to robust connectivity. More than one- third of districts also said that capital or up-front expenses are a challenge to increasing Internet connectivity.

In addition, districts face significant challenges as they seek to improve network speed and capacity while there is still little or no competition for broadband services in many areas. Digital equity is also a growing issue, particularly in terms of technology access outside of the classroom.

The survey organizes its findings around three major themes: affordability, which remains the primary obstacle for robust connectivity; network speed and capacity; and lack of competition for broadband services.

1 AFFORDABILITY

The high cost of Internet access remains the single biggest barrier to robust connectivity in schools today. For the third year in a row, the cost of monthly recurring/ongoing expenses was the top concern (46%) for school districts across the country. Capital, up-front non-recurring costs (34%) weighed in as the second biggest barrier to increasing Internet connectivity.

Nearly one in five of the 530 districts that responded pay exceptionally high monthly costs (over $50 per Mbps per month) for Internet and WAN connections. Although this is a significant improvement over last year, when nearly one in three schools reported paying exceptionally high monthly rates for Internet access, costs remain a major problem for many school systems. The good news is that one-third of districts pay low Internet connection fees (less than $5/Mbps a month) and more than half pay a similar amount for WAN connections.

2 NETWORK SPEED AND RELIABILITY

Too many schools still lack broadband speeds, encounter major problems with capacity, and do not meet current industry wireless standards. Schools have major "pinch points" within their networks that can affect connectivity and capacity, such as inadequate connection speeds for WAN and LAN, with wireless access points that lack capacity. Adequate capacity and bandwidth are critical for educators and students to be able to utilize digital tools and resources effectively, particularly when streaming content and videos that require more bandwidth.

While some school systems are making progress towards increasing Internet connectivity, the majority are still far from reaching their projected growth goals to fully utilize digital tools and resources. In addition to the up-front capital expenses and recurring monthly expenses, additional barriers to increasing Internet connectivity include the limited Internet capacity of the school system and the capacity of the Internet provider.

Twelve percent of districts reported that their Internet providers were at capacity and could not offer additional bandwidth. Another 10 percent reported that their own transport connection type was at capacity. When asked about the types of transport for WAN operation, including circuits among buildings within a school system and between the school system and the Internet connection point, 72 percent of respondents indicated that they are using lit fiber, a significant increase from 2014. …

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