School and Broadband Connectivity gap being connected with a dotted line

How Publicly Available Broadband Data Can Help Us Close the Connectivity Gap

Increasingly, users of digital platforms, tools, and networks around the world are learning how important it is that their data is collected and used transparently and ethically. Why is it that data is collected? Who is using it? Where exactly does the data come from? These are critical questions, and we are committed to ensuring that when it comes to our work, the answers around our use of broadband data are clear.

TRANSPARENCY DRIVES CHANGE

It is our core belief that with access to accurate, transparent data on broadband speeds and pricing, school district leaders are empowered to find new service options, make informed broadband choices, and get more bandwidth for their budgets. As a result, more schools can upgrade their broadband networks and give their students equal access to countless digital learning opportunities.

When the data published about school broadband networks is outdated or inaccurate, policymakers have limited ability to make the kinds of changes — like creating state matching funds to help under-resourced school districts access high-speed Internet, or forming state initiatives that enable digital learning programs for K-12 students — that are necessary to close the connectivity gap.

Fixing the problem begins with identifying it and having easily accessible information about where it is prevalent. For school districts that lack adequate broadband, transparent, accurate data can be incredibly powerful. It enables them to demonstrate exactly their level of need to school district leaders, highlight the possibilities for better, more affordable, broadband, and access the tools they need to implement network upgrades.

Up-to-date data is also key for service providers that have traditionally struggled with serving rural areas, or those seeking additional insight into the needs of potential customers. A recent update to our free school broadband price comparison tool, makes it easy for service providers to see the landscape of the connectivity gap so they may identify areas where they can help close it.

And in recent months, data has been essential to our defense of the E-rate program. It has helped us illustrate with compelling clarity the importance of preserving and improving this critical funding program.

ENSURING NATIONWIDE DATA ACCURACY

Every year, we conduct surveys asking K-12 public school districts to clarify their publicly available E-rate data. We do so to ensure that the data published by the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) accurately reflects the K-12 broadband landscape in America. Building transparency around that information and making it readily available is essential to closing the connectivity gap; here’s our approach.

1. Data Collection

Our engineering team downloads broadband services, pricing, connection type, and service provider data from the Universal Services Administrative Company’s (USAC) publicly available E-rate Form 471 filings. We also download school district demographic information from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and boundaries for state maps from the U.S. Census.

2. Machine Learning and Analysis

Using machine learning and analysis, we make data-based conclusions about a school district’s connectivity. For example, if E-rate applicants provide a description of what they are applying for in the “Service Description” field of the Form 471, we infer the service they are requesting and, in those cases, update our database.

3. Collaboration and Clarification

We collaborate with leaders of national and state organizations who champion equity and excellence in public education to clarify inconsistencies and anomalies in the data. This often includes state agencies (such as departments of education), E-rate consultants, and consortia leaders. This year, we also partnered with the School Superintendents Association (AASA), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to create a survey to help us better understand school connectivity. Clarifying broadband data helps us get the information we need to increase educational opportunity for America’s students by advocating for additional funding and ensuring school districts can leverage the resources provided by the federal E-rate program.

If, after those steps, our team still has questions about a school district’s network architecture, we reach out directly to the technology leader with questions. Though we primarily reach out to school districts during the summer months, technology leaders are welcome to verify their network information at any time by visiting their school district page on Compare & Connect K-12 and clicking “Contact Us”.

BROADBAND DATA FUELS ALL THAT WE DO

The data that we collect and clarify powers Compare & Connect K-12 and our annual State of the States report. Most importantly, it helps our team identify those school districts most in need and make sure they have the resources to take action for their students.

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to all of the state, regional, and school district leaders who have helped clarify their broadband data with our team.

You are helping school districts leaders across the country make more informed buying decisions and get the bandwidth they need to enable digital learning for all students.

To ensure the accuracy of publicly available data continues to help drive the fight for educational equity, please find your school district on Compare & Connect K-12 and update your 2018 district broadband information. For more detailed information about the type of data we collect and our data calculations, visit our FAQ.

UPDATE YOUR 2018 DATA