Even though the government has reshuffled priorities for the $2.4 billion federal E-rate program, two education groups say the federal commitment to help schools take advantage of the information superhighway falls several billion dollars short of what is really necessary.
The Consortium for School Networking and the American Assn. of School Administratorsissues a report showing the current E-rate effort is inadequate to meet President Obama’s goal of providing all schools with at least 100 Mbps of connectivity by 2018. The groups surveyed schools across the country and found that 80% of districts indicated that the E-rate program’s current funding levels are not meeting their needs. This is the second year that districts noted the significant gap between E-rate funding and requirements.
Only 9% of the districts have adequate bandwidth to fully meet the demand for online assessments and digital content anticipated over the next 18 months.
Rural districts are increasingly being left behind. The cost of connectivity is higher in rural districts than in urban-suburban ones. For example, 10% of rural districts pay over $250 per Mbps per month and at times the cost is a staggering $800 per Mbps. By contrast, 37% of the rural districts pay $10 or less per Mbps per month while 49% of urban-suburban districts pay $10 or less per Mbps, the report said. And, rural schools have fewer options. More than 30% of rural districts received either one or no responses to requests for E-rate services, according to the survey.
- Wi-Fi in rural districts is much less likely to meet current technical standards. Only one-quarter of rural districts have Wireless Access Points (WAPs) that support the most current standards (802.11n/ac) — a rate that is less than one-half that of large districts, where 59% have WAPs that meet the standard.
- 60% of districts reported that funding is the biggest obstacle to meeting the FCC’s short-term goal of 100Mbps / 1,000 students.
- Almost half — 45% — of districts reported not having enough bandwidth to deploy a 1-to-1 computing initiative in which all students are given digital devices.
- More than one-half of districts reported that the FCC’s decision to phase out E-rate support for voice and other services will have significant negative fiscal impact.
“This survey boldly underscores that our nation has a funding and bandwidth crisis,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “The FCC’s short- and long-term goals for connectivity will not be reached until there is a substantial increase in funding to meet the unmet needs of school districts across the nation, particularly in rural districts.”
The E-rate program is a Clinton-era initiative created as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It was designed to provide all of the nation’s schools and libraries, particularly those in poor and rural communities, with advanced communications services — including high-speed broadband Internet connectivity — at sharply discounted rates.