Virginia Pilot Tackles School Broadband Challenges

The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway is working with Virginia on a project designed to bring digital learning to students at a lower cost.

by / June 5, 2014
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe says ensuring that all Virginia communities have equal and affordable access to broadband technology is a critical component in developing a 21st Century Virginia economy. Flickr/Miller Center

Virginia schools are paying too much for broadband access and don't have enough of it. 

That's why the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway decided to work with the state on a broadband pricing pilot announced Tuesday, June 3. This is the first of two pilots with U.S. states, the second of which will be announced later this summer.  

After 30 states including Virginia took the nonprofit's national school broadband speed test, the commonwealth realized it needed to make some progress in this area.

“Ensuring that all Virginia communities have equal and affordable access to broadband technology is a critical component in developing a 21st Century Virginia economy,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a press release. "I am grateful that EducationSuperHighway has selected Virginia for this important project, which will use transparency to drive down broadband costs and provide greater opportunities for innovative learning in classrooms across the Commonwealth.” 

President Barack Obama's ConnectED initiative calls for 99 percent of students in schools and libraries to have access to high-speed Internet in five years, specifically Internet access at a rate of 1 megabit per second and wide area network connections of 1 gigabit per second.

Based on national speed test data, EducationSuperHighway projects that only 1 percent of schools across the nation will meet this goal.

In an analysis of E-Rate funding requests released in April, EducationSuperHighway found that the top two barriers to broadband in schools included fiber optic connections and broadband affordability. Schools that have good broadband access today are paying one-third the price of the schools that don't, said Evan Marwell, Founder of EducationSuperHighway. 

Virginia school divisions pay $4 more for Internet access and $3 more for network connectivity than school districts across the country, according to EducationSuperHighway. The average monthly cost in megabits-per-second is $22 for Internet access and $3 for network connectivity. 

Without addressing these two barriers, states will not be able to provide enough bandwidth for students to learn with the help of technology. 

"Integrating technology into the learning process for both teachers and students is really the most scalable opportunity we have to create equal access to education for students," Marwell said. 

This pilot project will address the cost challenge head-on by asking every Virginia school division to enter the price they pay for Internet and network connectivity in an online portal. Once that process is finished at the end of August, EducationSuperHighway will analyze the data and publish a report on its findings.

Finally, the nonprofit will come up with a strategy to address the problem and work with school divisions to put the strategy into action. 

"By doing this in Virginia, we hope that will inform what we do in lots of other states," Marwell said. "It's all about having enough data to have a comprehensive picture of what's actually going on, and being able to use that data to figure out solutions." 

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor, CDE

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.

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