Mississippi Improves Student Connectivity Slowly but Steadily

Gov. Phil Bryant is one of 38 governors nationwide committed to ensuring schools get Internet access, but the state still ranks in the bottom half of states in terms of student connectivity.

by Emma Crawford Kent, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo / November 25, 2015

(TNS) – The state of Mississippi and Gov. Phil Bryant were highlighted in a new study on school Internet connectivity for continuing efforts to bring high-speed access to the state’s public schools.

Education Superhighway, a non-profit organization focused on providing Internet access to public schools across America, cited in its “State of the States” report that 75 percent of Mississippi schools meet the minimum goal for Internet access as defined by the Federal Communications Commission.

With this percentage, Mississippi ranks 26th nationally.

The FCC has set this goal at 100 kbps of bandwidth per student, which represents the minimum Internet capacity needed for a school to implement digital learning.

President Barack Obama has set a goal to have 100 percent of schools nationwide meeting that goal by 2018.

According to the report, a typical school district in Mississippi will need to grow bandwidth at least threefold to meet the expected increase in demand by 2018.

The report also highlighted Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant as one of 38 governors nationwide committed to ensuring schools get the Internet access needed to educate students in the 21st century.

“Fostering greater access to enhanced Internet speeds has become a crucial factor for success in the K-12 community,” Bryant said in the report. “With 97 percent of our schools leveraging fiber-based connectivity, Mississippi will continue to focus on expanding cost effective bandwidth to ensure affordability of Internet access across our state in meeting the FCC’s goal in 2018.”

Rural districts, according to a report released on the same day by Education Week, have more trouble than others getting affordable, adequate Internet in schools.

According to the report, one in five school districts do not have access to fiber optic cables that carry high-speed Internet.

“If we want to enable our schools to get the broadband they need, they’re going to need fiber optic connection,” said Evan Harwell, Founder and CEO of Education Superhighway.

In Mississippi, the report said, the Calhoun County School District pays nearly $10,000 per month for the slowest Internet in the state.

With state tests and other assessments moving online, adequate Internet connectivity has become a necessity for schools.

However, with already limited funding for education in Mississippi, school districts must also look beyond the state level for money to improve Internet infrastructure.

A major source of funding for schools’ Internet needs is a federal program from the FCC called E-Rate.

E-Rate provides money to schools, libraries and others from service charges assessed on telephone bills.

Early in the 2015-16 school year, Lee County Schools applied for funding from E-Rate that would expand the district’s Wi-Fi to include a wireless access point in each classroom districtwide.

This expansion will build on the Wi-Fi network implemented at Shannon High School last year which allowed students to bring their own devices to school to be used in the classroom.

The more devices, the more bandwidth schools need to keep Internet speeds fast.

Both the Tupelo Public School District and the New Albany School District have implemented one-to-one device programs in their schools.

More funding is on the horizon for the remaining 25 percent of Mississippi public schools still in need of better Internet.

Currently, 69 percent of Mississippi schools have accessed E-Rate funds to help meet their Internet needs, according to “State of the States.”

This year, the FCC will increase the E-Rate funding cap to $3.9 billion in hopes of bringing more schools in Mississippi and nationwide up to date.

©2015 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.