An essential element of providing an equitable education for America’s students is ensuring the existence of a reliable wireless infrastructure capable of supporting the technology necessary for personalized learning, collaboration, increased engagement, and creativity. However, many schools around the country still need to update their wireless infrastructure in order to provide the affordable access to high-speed internet and robust connectivity needed in today’s classroom. When schools are upgrading their network, they should keep the following connectivity targets set by the FCC in mind:
- A connection to the broader Internet provided by an outside service provider to the district office (or another central district hub). Target: 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students in the short-term and 1 Gigabit per second per 1,000 students in the long-term.
- A “Wide Area Network” that provides network connections between the district’s central hub and all of its campuses, office buildings, and other facilities. Target: Connections capable of delivering 10 Gigabits per second per 1,000 students.
- “Local Area Networks” that provide connections within a school, including the equipment necessary to provide Wi-Fi service inside classrooms. Target: The FCC recommended a survey to determine a suitable measure. Many school-technology advocates call for internal connections that support 1-to-1 computing.
In order to support schools in building and paying for these networks, the FCC established the E-rate program in 1996. In 2014, the commission overhauled E-rate, raising the program’s annual spending cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion and prioritizing support for broadband service and wireless networks. The changes already had a major impact in 2015, as the number of schools and libraries applying for wireless network equipment via E-rate funds skyrocketed, with nearly all of the applicants expected to receive a portion of the funds.
As part of the E-rate overhaul, the FCC also approved a series of regulatory changes aimed at leveling the playing field for rural and remote schools, which often struggle with accessing essential fiber-optic cables and finding affordable rates.
The updates to the E-rate program should help districts drastically improve their network infrastructure in order to provide the speed and ubiquitous connectivity required by today’s classroom technology. However, there is still a long way to go and a lot of work left to be done to meet Obama’s ConnectEd Initiative by 2018.