Broadband provides students in rural and underserved urban schools access to online resources that can help them better prepare for the workforce.
When California adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, the move prompted educators to push for more streamlined ways to assess student comprehension and fluency with multimedia and technology. Online testing was an appealing option. Before long, the state began developing a plan to ditch paper and pencils in favor of online assessments in all K-12 schools.
There was one major problem: Not all California schools had access to high-speed internet.
CENIC, a nonprofit corporation that provides high-bandwidth networking services to California’s universities, colleges, schools and libraries, encouraged the state to address the need for infrastructure to support K-12 computer-based assessments. In the state’s 2014-2015 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown included $26.7 million in one-time funding to support the Broadband Infrastructure Improvement Grant (BIIG) project. This project was so successful that the state allocated an additional $50 million in one-time funding the following year to continue this important work.
BIIG offsets the high construction costs that typically prevent schools in unserved and underserved areas from obtaining broadband. CENIC and the K-12 High-Speed Network (K12HSN) provide network design, manage a large consortia E-rate application for the participating schools, and handle project management, including coordination with commercial service providers. Once the services are installed and working, the schools receiving BIIG funding take over the ongoing monthly costs.
“There are rural communities in California where it would cost more money for any commercial provider to establish broadband service than it could recoup through selling services,” says Sherilyn Evans, senior vice president and chief operating officer at CENIC. “BIIG is a solution for providing schools with broadband service. By funding the one-time construction costs, BIIG ensures affordable ongoing costs for participating schools.”
Beyond enabling online testing, access to broadband provides students in rural and underserved urban schools access to online resources that can help them better prepare for the workforce.
“Broadband bridges distance,” declares Evans. “It’s that great equalizer. It can open wider opportunities in both education and the work world, especially for students in unserved and underserved areas of the state.”
Successful implementation of BIIG required collaboration between CENIC and its many partners in state government, county offices of education, school districts and the broadband industry.
“Our relationship with commercial providers is critical,” states Evans. “We don’t have the expertise or the resources to handle the permitting and physical construction challenges that are common in unserved and underserved areas, so working with companies like AT&T is the only way we could make this happen.”
To date, BIIG has provided broadband connectivity to over 350 K-12 schools in California. While remarkable progress has been made, the group is still working to connect about 50 additional challenging schools, including two sites in a historically unserved area of Humboldt County, where AT&T is constructing more than 100 new poles for aerial fiber.
“Building out to these schools is proving to be time consuming and more expensive than anticipated,” explains Evans. “For example, since the area receives a high amount of rainfall, soil erosion protection must also be installed around each of the poles. However, because the soil erosion protection requirement wasn’t known up-front, AT&T is spending its own money to cover this cost and is committed to completing the project.”
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