SDN Blog

Shifting program priorities could help solve ‘homework gap’

Posted on Monday, August 03, 2015 in Broadband Internet

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Student connectivity; E-Rate Funding

Nine years ago, only 14 percent the nation’s K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Today, nearly all schools and libraries are connected, although many of them need higher-capacity services.

The growing importance of the Internet to education steadily has increased the need for bandwidth at schools and libraries. Making sure that students can tap into the bandwidth is a more recent challenge.

The Internet’s significant role in connecting students, teachers and others to each other and to electronic information is recognized in the FCC’s Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, also known as the E-Rate Program.

Significantly more funding has become available to help schools and libraries.

Significantly more funding has become available to help schools and libraries, she says, with a heavy emphasis being placed on developing institutions’ Wi-Fi networks. The general idea is to expand on-site accessibility.

Eric Sahly, an account executive at SDN who works with school clients, says program revisions are helping fund new services.

“Most organizations have a broadband connection now. But that doesn’t do you any good unless you can leverage it into teaching tools,” Sahly says. “People are walking into schools with iPads and Chromebooks. That’s how they connect to the Internet.”

SDN account executive Eric Erickson also works with school clients. Program emphasis and school interest essentially have shifted from external to internal connections, he says.

“Equipment within the four walls may have been the weak link before. Now they can get assistance from E-Rate to build their internal infrastructure to take advantage of the Internet that the South Dakota Bureau of Information and Telecommunications (BIT) already is delivering to the school,” Ericson says.

Part of the agency’s mission is to help provide institutions, such as schools, with reliable, secure and modern computing and communications services.

The federal E-Rate program, which spun out of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, serves most schools in the United States. The level of discount that schools may receive for telecommunications services depends on the financial need of their market.

E-Rate was implemented by the FCC in 1997. It is funded by the Universal Service Fund, which originally helped extend good telephone services to low-income, high-cost areas.

'A broadband connection... doesn't do you any good unless you can leverage it into teaching tools.' - Eric Sahly

Noteworthy changes were made in the E-Rate Program in July 2014 and December 2014. Among the updates was increasing the spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion. Goals include expanding Wi-Fi services to more than 10 million students in 2015.

The FCC wants to make high-speed, broadband capacity accessible to 99 percent of all students by 2019, which is admirable.

As Sahly points out, great connectivity at a library is of little value if the facility only has two public-access computer stations, and they are in heavy demand.

Americans used to talk about the digital divide – a reference to the gap between parts of the country that have good access to modern information and communications technology, and areas that have little or restricted access.

These days, Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the FCC, talks about the “homework gap.” That refers to differences in students’ accessibly to information on the Internet. Students from households without broadband access obviously have a tougher time doing homework, applying for scholarships and pursuing jobs.

Closing the homework gap is a worthwhile cause. All students as well as life-long learners deserve access to high-speed Internet services to help better themselves.

SDN Communications, the host of this blog, is a leading regional provider of broadband connectivity and related services to businesses and institutions such as schools. It is an E-Rate-compliant vendor. For more information about the company and its services, see www.sdncommunications.com or call 800-247-1442.