Life in the Slow Lane: K-12 Bandwidth Woes
DIRE STRAITS: Earlier this month, Education Superhighway released a 48-page comprehensive report on national K-12 E-rate spending. Analyses from both Politico and EdWeek suggest a less than stellar outlook for resource-scarce schools and districts across the country. For example, school districts meeting President Obama's ConnectED current goals (100 kbps/student) budget 450% more money for broadband services per student than districts not meeting current goals. Equally appalling from an infrastructure perspective is the fact that schools currently employing a fiber optic connection have nine times the bandwidth and 75% lower cost per Mbps than their fiber-less counterparts.
More intimidating than the state of K-12 broadband itself, is the gargantuan effort required to get lagging schools up to snuff. The report pushes heavily for capital investment in fiber optics, stricter guidelines for allocating E-rate funds, and reaching economies of scale that can lower bandwidth costs for all schools.
As proponents of smarter demand and supply in education, the EdSurge crew took special note of one recommendation:
The impact of enabling all districts to purchase at the average price of the top 50% of rates becomes even more dramatic as bandwidth needs increase over time. Every school could meet the Five Year Goals for an annual cost of $1.8 billion — less than the current size of the E-rate program."
With relatively low capital costs, it appears that sharing, communication, and coordination of procurement strategies across a large number of schools might be the only real barriers to producing a highly equitable spectrum of broadband.