- EducationSuperHighway's "2017 State of States" report shows that, despite gains that have connected 94% of the nation's school districts to the minimum 100 kbps set by the FCC, 6.5 million students still lack access to high-speed internet — especially in the 1,587 rural schools without the infrastructure to make that possible.
- Bipartisan efforts are helping to close the gap, with 45 governors now on board with close to $200 million in state matching funds provided to bolster "Second E-Rate Modernization" construction efforts that will connect hard-to-reach schools, according to the report.
- The report, which utilizes 2017 FCC E-rate data from 11,038 school districts, also notes that governors have worked with internet providers to bring down costs for schools, with prices dropping 78% since 2013 from $22 per Mbps to $4.90 per Mbps.
The report's numbers and the efforts to fully close the digital equity gap are promising, but there's little room for those efforts to stall if a goal of connecting every student to high-speed broadband by 2020 is to be met. The FCC's E-Rate program has played a significant role in the progress thus far, with 79% of schools and libraries reporting their internet is faster because of the funding. Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has also reportedly told Congress that the program is "worth fighting for," and is said to be interested in placing particular focus on better connecting rural schools and districts.
The renomination of Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel by the Trump administration has also raised the program's prospects. A strong proponent of E-Rate, she has advocated for its use in closing the "homework gap," which occurs when students lack reliable access at home to complete digital assignments. Districts have worked to address that issue in a variety of ways, from placing hotspots on buses parked around the city or partnering with local businesses for free hotspots to allowing students to check out their own portable hotspot to take home.
The E-Rate application window closes around February, but getting started early can avoid additional paperwork and stress.