Nearly 90% of the districts that need upgrades have contracts expiring before the start of the 2020 school year; most others have upgrade options built into their current contracts.
To ensure these upgrades happen, both the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)4 and Education Super Highway have tools to help state and district leaders leverage price transparency to get more bandwidth for their existing budgets. USAC’s new open data platform gives districts easier access to their
peers’ E-rate application data. Similarly, Education Super Highway’s Compare & Connect K-12 tool provides an interface to E-rate data that helps districts identify peer pricing opportunities. These tools
empower districts to negotiate more effectively with their existing or new service providers.
ONCE STUDENTS HAVE THE MINIMUM CONNECTIVITY THEY NEED, WHAT’S NEXT?
While 100 kbps per student is the minimum connectivity required for digital learning, it’s important that school districts continue growing
their bandwidth to keep up with the increasing adoption of technology in classrooms. As seen in Chart 7, the median bandwidth per student in districts meeting the minimum connectivity goal has increased by nearly
30% year over year.
The growing demand for bandwidth, caused by increasing adoption of media-rich digital learning, also explains the steady increase in the number of school districts meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Mbps per student. As seen in Chart 8, almost 2,900 districts (22%) are now meeting the 1 Mbps per student goal, a nearly 50% increase from 2016.
Expanding Fiber Networks to Unconnected Schools
Why fiber is so vital
As much as we all strive to anticipate learning needs down the line, it is not always possible to predict the extent of technology’s evolution. Ten years ago, few had foreseen the current prevalence of multimedia in the classroom, the number of devices on school networks, and other digital learning demands that require more robust bandwidth than the vast majority of district networks were originally built for.
To handle today’s digital learning demands and the need for additional bandwidth in the future, fiber is currently the only technology that can meet the
requirements of the vast majority of schools.
2,049 schools still don’t have this critical technology.
In 2017, states, school districts, and service providers reduced the number of schools without fiber by 45%. This was made possible through a combination of:
- Service provider network expansions
- The availability of state matching funds
- The use of E-rate special construction subsidies in districts with low budgets
Much of this progress can be attributed to E-rate modernization. The FCC significantly accelerated the expansion of fiber networks by:
- Articulating the need for scalable infrastructure to schools
- Making it easier to use E-rate funds for fiber construction
- Giving schools access to the same competitive fiber options available to businesses
- Creating incentives for states to pay part of fiber construction costs
- Increasing overall broadband funding
Unfortunately, there are still 2,049 schools without the broadband infrastructure they need to meet their current and future connectivity requirements. Schools without fiber are spread across 45 states with more than three-quarters (77%) located in rural and small-town communities.
The FCC took an important first step to address the fiber cost challenges faced by rural and small-town districts during E-rate modernization. To minimize
the upfront costs faced by districts to build fiber, the Commission made it significantly easier to use E-rate funds for fiber construction and created incentives for states to contribute 10% of the construction costs.