Rural Broadband Month

Rural Broadband Month: Encouraging Equal Access to Digital Learning

Building out the infrastructure to support high-speed Internet access requires multi-layered collaboration between state and district leaders, school administrators, and service providers. A recent victory for Arkansas’ public school system shows that these collaborations can yield tangible and meaningful results, particularly for rural communities.

On July 13, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that the state had connected Glen Rose School District, the final Arkansas district awaiting high-speed Internet connectivity.

With that accomplishment, the state has officially achieved 100% high-speed connectivity for all of its public schools. Arkansas joins five other states that have reached this milestone; it is a particularly notable moment for a state comprised largely of rural districts.

 

Having high-speed Internet is about offering
students equal access to a robust, modern education,
regardless of their socioeconomic background
or geographic location.

 

The progress Arkansas made in just two years is significant. In 2015, Fort Smith Schools was the first district in the state to reach 200 kbps per student, exceeding the Federal Communications Commission’s recommended minimum of 100 kbps of Internet speed per student. Having high-speed Internet is not just about meeting standards, however: it’s about offering students equal access to a robust, modern education, regardless of their socioeconomic background or geographic location.

With 100% connectivity throughout the state, more Arkansas students can partake in virtual opportunities like speaking with students across the globe or participating in lessons from NASA scientists, as Beebe Elementary School students were able to do.

In a July 2017 statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai designated August as Rural Broadband Month at the agency. Throughout this month, the FCC will encourage particular focus on issues surrounding digital access in America’s rural communities. As demonstrated by Arkansas’ success in connecting all of its public school students, rural districts can thrive when cross-functional collaborations come together to leverage state and federal resources.

 

HOW TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD FOR RURAL AMERICA

Equal digital access is important everywhere in America, for all students. Rural Broadband Month is a great opportunity to focus on the particular challenges of building sustainable broadband infrastructure in rural areas–infrastructure that addresses not only the digital needs of today’s students, but also the likelihood of much greater Internet use in the future.

 

“Rural schools are the primary reason that the E-rate program exists,
as they are the least served and have the most need – their students
typically don’t have ready access to museums or science centers,
and if their school can’t get reliable, affordable broadband,
it’s unlikely that its students will have access to good Internet
at home either. It’s an equity issue.”

-EducationSuperHighway Senior District Consultant Josh Chisom

 

Rural school districts have the right to give their students the world of opportunities afforded by reliable Internet access, and progress is not only possible, but within reach.

 

FOUR WAYS TO IMPROVE RURAL BROADBAND ACCESS

  1. Consider working with neighboring districts to form a purchasing consortium.

    In doing so, you could increase your purchasing power and create larger projects, which are often more attractive to potential service providers.

  2. Utilize these free RFP templates.

    Our resources can help get better deals with vendors.

  3. Tune in to the FCC’s Open Commission Meeting on August 3, 2017.

    The meeting will address policies aimed to bridge the digital divide. You can find the proposed meeting agenda here. This meeting is open to the public.

  4. Use our free Compare & Connect K-12 transparency tool.

    See how your district’s broadband pricing compares to what districts in your area are paying.

 

Are you a school or district leader?
Find out the steps you can take to improve connectivity.