The Power of Transparency: Broadband pricing data helps Virginia school districts get more bandwidth

In our work over the past three years to understand and analyze school broadband connectivity and costs, we have discovered high variance in the prices that school districts in different areas of the country—and even within the same state and county—pay for Internet access. We have also seen that information sharing and price transparency between school districts has a significant positive impact on ensuring all school districts receive enough bandwidth to support digital learning.

This spring, EducationSuperHighway partnered with a consortium of 15 central Virginia school districts to collect pricing and bandwidth data and provide our first Broadband Data Forum. The goal of the Forum is to help school districts receive more bandwidth at affordable prices by sharing pricing information with participants and exploring options to leverage group buying power. In preparation for the Forum, EducationSuperHighway worked with district technology directors to collect and analyze Internet access pricing data and bandwidth speeds to understand connectivity in the region.

A third of the districts making up the consortium had bandwidth levels well below the speeds necessary to support digital learning, which limits teachers’ abilities to provide digital learning opportunities to their students. In addition, the school districts with the highest cost for bandwidth were paying 13x more than the school districts with the most affordable bandwidth prices in the same area. Technology directors and other school district leaders were eager to explore new procurement options and share pricing data to ensure they could affordably meet their bandwidth goals.

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As a result of the Forum, one third of the districts’ technology directors successfully used the group’s shared pricing data to negotiate for more bandwidth from their service providers. Together, these five Virginia districts received 500% more bandwidth for only 15% more cost after negotiations, allowing all five to meet a connectivity level of 200 kbps per student. The districts were able to make mid-contract upgrades while taking into consideration E-rate stipulations to maintain eligibility.

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By better understanding the landscape of bandwidth and cost for school districts in central Virginia, the Broadband Data Forum participants used the information to negotiate for more bandwidth. As noted in a recent post commemorating the second anniversary of the ConnectED initiative, the White House acknowledged the success of these districts in Virginia and the “ongoing efforts to improve the collection and sharing of E-rate data are critical to scaling this type of intervention and applying it to communities around the country.” In keeping with this effort, EducationSuperHighway plans to offer additional Broadband Data Forums in select states as well as launch a national online transparency tool, Compare and Connect K-12, later in 2015.

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