Tom Hering, Director of Information Technology at Great Falls Public Schools in Montana, was in a bind. “We live in a very rural state and our fiber connectivity is not comparable to what you would have in some large populous states. We were starting to [exceed] our bandwidth capacity… With our goals as a district to move towards mobile technology and online curriculum, we needed to begin focusing on [increasing bandwidth].”
Hering knew he needed help, but wasn’t sure where to start, so he began doing research. As a result, he came across EducationSuperHighway and the Beta version of Compare & Connect K-12, our online tool that leverages public E-rate data to provide transparency around school broadband speeds and pricing.
As one of the tool’s first users, Tom gained knowledge of what other nearby school districts were getting from the same service provider and was able to negotiate a 330 percent increase in bandwidth with only an 8 percent increase in price. The district now boasts bandwidth of 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps), falling cozily in line with the FCC’s minimum bandwidth goal of at least 100 kilobits per second (kbps) per student.
“It was a no-brainer for an 8 percent increase in our monthly fees to triple our bandwidth,” Hering said. “I didn’t have to convince too many people of that.”
Beta users like Tom were crucial to the development of the full release of Compare & Connect K-12. As a result of their feedback, we increased the tool’s power and ease of use by including new features like maps and filters that provide state leaders with a comprehensive resource to search and compare connectivity across school districts and allow school districts to view how their broadband services and prices compare to those of neighboring school districts. We also added a service provider directory that allows school districts to find providers that are offering better deals in their states and direct links to RFPs allowing school districts to attract more competitive bids for service.
To access the tool, go to: www.compareandconnectk12.org, and type in the name of a school district or state to get started.
Broadband activities are revving up in the Bay State. The timing is not a coincidence: with President Biden signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November 2021, and NTIA subsequently releasing Notices of Funding Opportunity which outline the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, Digital Equity Act, and Enabling Middle Mile Grant Infrastructure program in May 2022, states and localities find themselves in a new era of funding opportunities to finally close the digital divide. To connect the unconnected to affordable broadband, EducationSuperHighway has teamed up with organizations across Massachusetts to take advantage of this opportunity in three separate areas, described below.