Apr 01 2016

Districts Feel the Need for Speed (and Bandwidth)

Digital learning environments put stress on networks.

Walk into any school district in the country, and you might find Wi-Fi for your student’s smartphone, tablet or notebook.

Walk into a coffee shop, and free Wi-Fi is a given. Even President Obama has remarked on the disparity.

“I’ve said before, in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired,” Obama told a gathering of educators at the ConnectED Superintendents Summit in November 2014. CoSN’s 2015 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey shows that school districts have made progress on their education networks but still have work to do.

The survey shows that “nearly a quarter of school districts aren’t even close to meeting the FCC’s short-term broadband connectivity goal of 100 megabits per 1,000 students, and one out of three school systems don’t use current wireless industry standards.”

School districts are under increased pressure from digital learning environments that put stress on networks.

Connecting Classrooms

A recent K–12 connectivity heat map shows which states have the most connected classrooms; among them: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington.

The heat map draws on data from a report by CDW•G, which surveyed 400 K–12 IT professionals about the connectivity in their schools. The report also pulls in data from other sources, including EducationSuperHighway.
According to these sources, more than 63 percent of schools don’t have enough bandwidth to meet current needs for digital learning — and the need is increasing dramatically.

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents expect two or more devices per student in three years, and 20 percent expect that students will have access to three or more devices in three years.

If that happens, school systems need to plan and respond with robust networks that can handle the onslaught. So, what is holding them back?

“For the third consecutive year, nearly half of school systems identified the cost of ongoing recurring expenses as their biggest barrier to robust connectivity,” CoSN’s 2015 Infrastructure Survey states. “More than one-third of districts also said that capital or upfront expenses are a challenge to increasing robust Internet connectivity.”

Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission is listening. CoSN’s years of data collecting led to the decision to increase E-Rate funding by 60 percent and modernize the entire program.

Focus on Investments

The CoSN report makes it clear that the onus is on districts.

“While progress is happening, policymakers and educators will need to keep their eyes focused on continued investments in robust, reliable education networks with broadband access and WiFi to enable digital learning and address issues of digital equity,” the report states.

Consortium buying for bandwidth and Internet access can lower E-Rate costs, although those services are not available for all school systems. For those who can take advantage, bulk buying will cut costs, help build investments and give the district access to technical expertise.

The need for speed and bandwidth is increasing as a tidal wave of devices looms over district networks. But have faith. If Starbucks can handle it, so, too, can our schools.