Possible ‘Fraud, Theft, Waste, and Abuse’: Report Questions NYC School Broadband Spending

Possible ‘Fraud, Theft, Waste, and Abuse’: Report Questions NYC School Broadband Spending
Feb. 11, 2017: Planned Parenthood supporters rallied in Washington Square Park with NYC comptroller Scott Stringer
Photo Credit: a katz/ ShutterStock

“The baseline, fundamental technology barrier is just being connected,” said Miguel A. Gamino, New York City’s Chief Technology Officer, in an interview with EdSurge earlier this month, noting his office’s desire to close the “homework gap” caused by lack of broadband connection in homes.

These words echo with resonance as a report issued by New York City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer on Sunday notes efforts to wire middle schools (at the cost of hundreds of millions in city funds) has shown negligible results. Stringer’s report also pointed to a scattered paper trail with several missing documents including, “project plans, implementation timelines, progress reports, costs, dates of installation, and all the names of contractors who worked on the project.” Something the comptroller says can be fertile ground for fraud and corruption.

“Our kids deserve 21st-century classrooms that prepare them for a 21st-century economy. But without any semblance of strategic planning or budgeting, we’ve ended up with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on service that our schools say doesn’t serve them well,” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said.

In Stringer’s report, which surveyed every middle school in New York City and garnered over 400 responses, many of the schools said the broadband service provided did not meet their instructional needs (45 percent), made it difficult to stream videos (55 percent), and/ left them unsatisfied (33 percent). And about 62 percent said they were not aware of tools created to help them manage their internet use and request bandwidth upgrades.

The report also notes grievances from schools leaders throughout the five boroughs, pointing to poor broadband infrastructure that makes the implementation of new programs such as Computer Science curriculum and one-to-one Chromebooks difficult, possibly resulting in a classroom gap, where some schools are more readily able to participate in these types of innovative programs than others.

The New York City’s Department of Education said in a statement to EdSurge that they are already working to improve the state of broadband connections in schools, pointing to their previously-announced 520-million dollar investment through the Capital Plan and City budget to increase network bandwidth and internet capacity. The department noted that they have increased oversight efforts and officials hope by 2019 to provide every school with 100 Mbps of internet connectivity (upgrades have already begun).

As the statement from the NYCDOE notes: "This report finds that every middle school already has high-speed internet connections and that the majority of middle schools are satisfied with their internet, and we're investing over $500 million through 2019 to further upgrade internet speed in all our classrooms. We also increased central oversight six years ago to manage technology projects in the best interest of students, schools, and taxpayers." 

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