America continues to make extraordinary progress in narrowing the K-12 digital divide. Overall, 44.7 million students, 2.6 million teachers, and 81,000 schools are now achieving the minimum connectivity goal of 100 kbps per student that gives students equal access to digital learning opportunities.
However, 2.3 million students are on the other side of the digital divide without access to high-speed Internet and 1,356 schools lack fiber-optic connections or other scalable broadband infrastructure. Upgrading just 62 school districts will finish the job of connecting 99% of students to the FCC’s 100 kbps per student Internet access goal and open the doors to integrating digital learning opportunities into the classroom.
When we began our work in 2012 few were aware of the slow Internet speeds in the majority of America’s classrooms. Using the SchoolSpeedTest we raised national awareness of the issue and shined a light on the Connectivity Gap. But, there is still work to be done. We now must ensure that state and district leaders make network upgrades a priority.
Network design, implementation, and maintenance require specialized skills that many school districts cannot afford. Most districts do not have experts on staff to manage increasingly complex network infrastructure. In fact, the typical district IT technician is required to support five times as many devices as their counterparts in corporate America, leaving little time for network management. This causes school networks to operate below their potential and makes it difficult to align a school’s broadband access to its learning objectives.
The cost of broadband access has continuously decreased since 2013 thanks to price transparency and technological improvements that have enabled service providers to bring school districts significantly more bandwidth at the same cost. This momentum continued in 2018 with service providers trimming 33% off Internet access costs. However, affordability still remains a challenge for school districts as there continues to be significant variation in what districts pay for Internet access, especially for higher-bandwidth circuits.