- Since 2020, there’s been a 25% uptick in school districts nationwide meeting or surpassing the Federal Communications Commission's bandwidth goal of 1 Mbps per student, according to the Report on School Connectivity released this week by nonprofit Connected Nation.
- While 59% of districts met the FCC benchmark in 2021 compared to 47% in 2020, 27.6 million students still lack enough bandwidth to support their digital learning needs in the classroom, the report said.
- Even though this new data is encouraging, more action is needed to increase internet access and connectivity for students, said Emily Jordan, vice president for Connect K-12, an online resource for information on K-12 internet service. One solution, she said, is to continue improving upon the FCC’s E-rate program that helps subsidize school connections and internet infrastructure.
The pandemic gets at least partial credit for the increased district connectivity, Jordan said, as it created awareness of the need for strong internet connections to ensure student success. She’s hopeful this attention will help continue focus on and funding for improved broadband infrastructure and lower internet pricing.
The progress shown in this report is “crucial,” said Julia Fallon, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
With more students receiving school-issued devices for remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis, there’s a higher need for stronger connectivity in the classroom as students returned to in-person learning with more of these devices, Fallon said.
The FCC’s bandwidth benchmark of 1 Mbsp per student was established in 2014 through the E-rate Modernization Order. A big question now lingers for Fallon: Is the FCC’s bandwidth goal high enough to support the growing demand of student devices in school?
“We still need to obviously solve the adequate bandwidth issue in communities, and typically they’re rural, low-income, underserved spaces,” Fallon said.
For rural areas facing difficulties funding strong telecommunications infrastructure, public-private partnerships could be a solution, Fallon said.
“It’s not just students that benefit. A whole community would benefit if they were connected,” she said.
The Report on School Connectivity found districts pay a wide range of prices for the internet. In fact, the median cost per megabit has decreased from $11.70 in 2015 to $1.39 currently. Yet 1,703 districts pay more than $5 per megabit and 746 districts are still paying more than $10 per megabit, according to the report.
Why such a difference in internet pricing? Jordan said it can be blamed on a lack of competition between service providers, no capped standards for costs and the variance in infrastructure quality.
As districts navigate and continue to learn lessons about the digital divide during the pandemic, they are calling for more sustainable ways to establish consistent, permanent internet access in both schools and students’ homes.
Not only is lack of internet connection a problem, but weak internet connections in the classroom can contribute to noticeable learning loss, Jordan said.
Internet connectivity must be expanded but also maintained in the future, Fallon said. It’s also key that cybersecurity in K-12 gets the funding it needs, she said, because internet connections in schools are useless otherwise.
“Once the pandemic is over … blended learning is here to stay,” Fallon said.
But once emergency pandemic funding runs out for districts, Fallon said, the worry is if districts will be able to afford the upkeep for technology provided to them in 2020.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated one reason from Connect K-12’s Emily Jordan for a difference in internet pricing. The article has been corrected to include competition between service providers as one factor Jordan cites.