- For more than 44 million students — or in 96% of public schools — high-speed internet connections make digital learning possible, Education Week reports, citing a report from broadband advocacy nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.
- The organization released its 2018 State of the States report, which found that 98% of U.S. public schools have next-generation fiber infrastructure, putting them one step closer to high-speed internet access. With this statistic, the nation is close to hitting former president Barack Obama’s 2013 goal of giving 99% of American students next-generation broadband access by 2018 under his ConnectED initiative.
- Some 1,356 schools are still off the grid, Education Week notes, with many of these schools located in rural districts. Some districts have applied to use federal and state funds to help pay for these networks, but the Federal Communications Commission, for example, has approved only 5 of the 347 E-rate “special construction” requests this year.
Technology is expensive, and getting it to rural districts is the hardest piece of the puzzle. But in an increasingly tech-centric world, making sure digital learning is part of today’s classroom experience is essential for classrooms across the country.
Without broadband access, students are missing out on learning opportunities. New technology that’s often utilized in classrooms — including iPads and tablets, Chromebooks, and all the educational apps and games that go along with them — are creating more chances for students to interact and engage with peers or their teachers. Educators, in some cases, are scrapping paper textbooks entirely in favor of online resources. The plethora of online data and supplementary materials disappear at the blink of an eye when internet isn’t an option.
And with urban areas typically facing fewer barriers than their rural counterparts, significant inequities arise across the nation. That can have huge impacts in the long run, with students in these locations facing disadvantages when applying to colleges or pursuing a career.
The Federal Communications Commission's E-rate program gives schools a series of benefits regarding up-to-date infrastructure that can support a tech-friendly and increasingly digital first classroom. In rural districts and those with fewer resources, this is especially true, and this funding can be crucial. But the application process has been criticized as taking too long and denying too many requests for schools. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the process should be more efficient, but others say schools are getting denied because connecting schools to internet isn’t a big enough priority.
Despite some of these barriers, it’s not too late to start filing for E-rate funds, but the sooner, the better. School and district leaders should plan to figure out what they’ll need next year and how much money that will cost.