Your role in making sure that we can fulfill our promise to America’s students by 2020.
With 6.5 million students still without the broadband speeds they need and more than 2,000 schools disconnected from 21st-century broadband
infrastructure, it is clear that there is more work to be done to finish the job of connecting all of America’s students to the transformational power of digital
learning. By taking action, governors, service providers, and school districts can accelerate the pace at which our nation fulfills its promise to connect America’s students.
Governor & State Leader Action Plan
Connecting America’s students to high-speed broadband is a bipartisan issue; for the past three years, governors from both parties have taken action to increase access to educational opportunity. In 2017, executive leadership enhanced the likelihood that districts upgraded to meet FCC connectivity goals, and accelerated the pace of fiber and Wi-Fi upgrades.
They accomplished this by taking action in the following areas:
- Set connectivity goals: Governors across the country established and communicated specific connectivity goals for their states and then took action to identify which districts in their states needed to upgrade to meet these goals. By doing so, they helped emphasize broadband upgrades as a priority for superintendents and school boards.
- Engage service providers: Recognizing the important role service providers play in closing the fiber gap and improving broadband affordability, governors convened groups of service providers to upgrade schools. Galvanizing the support of service providers has increased the number of bids school districts receive through RFPs. It has also encouraged providers to extend their fiber networks to nearby districts, and has created a win-win environment where service providers are viewed as partners in delivering schools more bandwidth for their broadband budget.
- Establish state matching funds: 18 governors are accelerating the pace of fiber deployments to underserved school districts and communities by eliminating or reducing the need for districts to come up with capital for upfront construction costs.
This makes it possible for service providers to extend their fiber networks to areas they were previously unable to reach based on cost justification. In addition, some states are
accelerating Wi-Fi upgrades by providing districts with some or all of the necessary matching funds to leverage E-rate Category 2 subsidies.
- Make broadband affordable: States are directly improving school district purchasing power by aggregating the procurement of broadband under statewide RFPs and rebidding out-of-date state broadband contracts. They are also helping districts get more bandwidth for their budget by providing access to price transparency tools and connecting
districts with additional service providers during the procurement process (see Compare & Connect K-12).
- Provide technical and procurement assistance: In many districts, the inability to upgrade their broadband thus far is primarily a function of overburdened IT departments not having the time or support to pursue upgrades. Governors are addressing this issue and accelerating upgrades by providing districts with technical and procurement support. This facilitates the preparation of RFPs, maximizes competition, and improves the overall effectiveness of district-led broadband procurements.
In 2017, governors continued increasing their commitment to upgrading schools -- launching statewide upgrade programs, establishing fiber matching funds, and encouraging service providers to expand fiber networks. The map above identifies the governors who have committed to delivering on America’s promise of digital equity for all of our K-12 students. Every governor who has taken office since 2016 has publicly committed to taking action and some have already made significant progress in upgrading their schools.
Service Provider Action Plan
- In 2017, the percentage of service providers delivering the minimum recommended bandwidth for digital learning to 100% of the students they serve rose from 61% to 77%. These service providers understand the important role they play in delivering on America’s promise to connect our K-12 students.
They are also taking advantage of the considerable opportunities to leverage E-rate funding to expand their networks and grow their businesses.
As school districts adopt digital learning in classrooms, the demand for K-12 bandwidth continues growing nearly 30% year over year. This growth is driving
districts to upgrade to the FCC’s 2018 goal of 1 Mbps per student of Internet access — a level 22% of districts have already reached. As a result, there are likely to be meaningful increases in broadband spending by school districts over the next few years. Service providers can take advantage of the opportunities inherent in bridging the K-12 connectivity gap in the following ways:
Use E-rate open data to identify districts requiring upgrades: E-rate modernization made public all of the applications for funding submitted by school districts and consortia. Service providers can use the Universal Service Administrative Company’s Data Retrieval Tool and websites like Compare &
Connect K-12 as a lead generation source to identify which districts need bandwidth, fiber, or Wi-Fi upgrades.
3. Driving the expansion of fiber networks
The FCC recognized that access to digital learning required schools to have access to modern broadband infrastructure, and that for the vast majority of schools this meant connecting them to fiber. To accomplish this, the FCC expanded the use of E-rate funds to pay for fiber construction costs (special construction), gave schools access to the same competitive choices as businesses, and created incentives for states to provide resources for fiber construction.
These changes have been embraced by state and district leaders, reduced the number of schools without fiber by 90%, and remain critical to finishing the job
of closing the connectivity gap.
- Leverage E-rate funds to extend fiber networks: By allowing E-rate funds to be used for fiber construction and enhancing subsidies through state matching funds, the FCC has given service providers the chance to extend their fiber networks to
school districts and communities that they do not yet serve.
Upgrade existing customers to the FCC’s minimum
connectivity goal: School districts meeting the 100 kbps per student goal are half as likely to switch providers when they re-bid their contracts. Service providers can significantly improve customer retention at virtually no cost by upgrading existing customers to this standard.
Compete on value, not price: With school districts focused on increasing their bandwidth, service providers can compete for business by providing more bandwidth for the budget rather than lowering the monthly recurring cost. In most cases, this can be done by simply offering districts a deal that a peer district is already receiving, making this is an attractive opportunity for service providers to win new business and retain existing customers.
- Engage in the opportunities enabled by the E-rate program: Service providers play a significant role in the future of E-rate.
To deliver on America’s promise to connect our students, and to continue growing their networks and K-12 businesses, service providers should help ensure that FCC policy allows E-rate to sustain the dramatic progress accomplished so far. Providers should also consider lending their support to common-sense
improvements to the administration of the E-rate program and the clarity of rules. This type of advocacy can help ensure that service providers are able to dig once and pull extra fiber in E-rate-funded trenches that serve the entire community,
particularly in places where E-rate brings high-speed broadband to a school or library.
School District Action Plan
As district leaders, you have firsthand knowledge of the technology needs of the schools you serve. Of the people who can drive change in this mission, you also
have the greatest understanding of the particular challenges your districts face in procuring and sustaining sufficient connectivity.
- Assess future bandwidth needs: While you cannot predict exactly what digital learning needs you’ll have in the future, it’s important to plan at least three years ahead before you sign new contracts with providers. Make sure that the bandwidth you decide on and include in your upgrade request for proposal
serves not only the current needs of your district, but those that may arise in the years to come. 22% of school districts are already meeting the FCC’s 1 Mbps per student Internet access goal — how soon will you need to get there?
Expand the options on your Form 470 or RFP to maximize bids: Many districts have found that submitting stronger Form 470s and RFPs makes a tangible difference in the quantity and quality of provider bids they receive. Including broader ranges
of bandwidth and adding opportunities for vendors to bid on alternative fiber options are just some of the ways that you can maximize competition and interest in your upgrade.
Seek external support with those forms and their corresponding follow-up processes if you have concerns about the time or resources needed to complete them.
- Investigate the deals your peers are receiving: Upgrading can seem financially daunting, but it is often possible for your district to lower its cost per Mbps, which means that you can get more bandwidth for your budget. Talk to other districts in your area about the service providers they are using and the broadband deals they are receiving. Chances are you can increase your broadband without spending more money.
Be open to switching providers: If the pricing or bandwidth you are offered is not sufficient to meet your needs, it is important to seek other options, even if you have had a long-standing relationship with your current provider. In areas served by more than one provider, exploring other options can be a great way to ensure that you are truly getting the best deal possible.
Elevate the priority of funding broadband infrastructure projects: With only two years remaining to take advantage of Category 2 budgets and fiber matching funds, the time to act is now. School boards, superintendents, and all district leadership involved in setting budgets must make it a priority to invest in
broadband infrastructure today to ensure the foundation is set to support a district’s future digital learning plans.
America has made tremendous progress in bringing high-speed broadband to its public school classrooms. The task now falls to governors, federal policymakers, service providers, and districts, working in partnership, to finish the job of connecting every student to educational opportunity. Each state has
its own unique challenges and opportunities, but by setting goals and focusing on closing the bandwidth, fiber, and Wi-Fi gaps, our combined efforts can
ensure that America delivers on the promise it made to close the connectivity gap and level the playing field for children across the nation.