Making a Plan for E-Rate Funding
Without a doubt, education is becoming increasingly digital. New technology also creates new demands for school and district leaders, who at times struggle to keep up with network stressors, particularly affordability, capacity, reliability, speed and the lack of competition for broadband services.
That’s according to CoSN’s 2015 Annual E-Rate and Infrastructure Survey, which shows that school districts have made progress on their education networks but still have some work left to do.
Conducted in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators and marketing firm MDR, the survey states that “nearly a quarter of school districts aren’t even close to meeting the Federal Communication Commission’s short-term broadband connectivity goal of 100 megabits per 1,000 students, and one out of three school systems doesn’t use current wireless industry standards.”
The FCC’s modernization to E-Rate, a federal program meant to ensure that K–12 schools and libraries — particularly in low-income or rural areas — have affordable access to telecommunications and Internet services, means there are billions of dollars available to districts struggling to pay for connectivity needs.
Barriers to Connectivity
Nearly half of the school systems surveyed by CoSN report that recurring expenses prove the greatest barriers to connectivity, while a third of districts identify capital or upfront expenses as an ongoing, major challenge.
“Districts also face significant challenges with improving network speed and capacity and increasing competition for broadband services,” the report states. “Digital equity is a growing issue, particularly in terms of technology access outside of the classroom.”
Other pain points include network speed and capacity, lack of competition for Internet services and rising digital inequality, the report states.
The number of school systems that report their Wi-Fi can handle a one-to-one initiative, up from 54 percent in 2014
SOURCE: CoSN, 2015 Annual E-Rate and Infrastructure Survey, November 2015
Through the next three years, observers expect the strain on networks created by the sheer number of devices showing up in the classroom to be dramatic. Educators should look to invest in reliable, robust networks with broadband and Wi-Fi access to meet the demands those devices will place on the networks.
“School systems are also facing digital equity challenges for students today that will only get worse if they do not start implementing off-campus strategies for connectivity and access to devices now,” CoSN’s report states.
The FCC’s modernization order, also known as E-Rate 2.0, phases out some technologies and services while increasing support for wireless and broadband connections in K–12 classrooms nationwide.
It also allows each school or district to discount up to $150 per student over a five-year period.
To take advantage of the $3.9 billion in annual funding available, district technology leaders should read the modernization order, which is available online, and file their E-Rate application forms early. Strategic planning for funding needs and expectations remains critical, along with mapping out future infrastructure needs in a way that will maximize spending.
With proper planning and help from E-Rate, all K–12 students could soon be connected and ready to learn.