Only a fraction of the nation's school officials are convinced that the E-rate program is meeting their districts' needs, according to a recent survey, which probes districts' technology shortcomings in detail.
Overall, just 7.5 percent of respondents told the Consortium for School Networking that the federal program, which supports technology in schools and libraries, is adequate to meet their tech demands.
The Consortium for School Networking questioned school leaders from 44 states, finding that many said they needed more help than the federal program has provided. Almost 30 percent of districts surveyed chose not to apply for some of the program's funding because they expected to receive insufficient funding.
"The survey documents the overwhelming need for investing in better school infrastructure, from broadband to wireless access to overall network design," said Keith R. Krueger, the CEO of the Washington-based education technology leadership organization. "This should be a wake-up call for the Federal Communications Commission to double the funding of the E-rate program and enable a digital learning environment for all students that meets the needs of today and tomorrow."
The survey also highlighted the impact of geography and district size on access. Schools in rural areas paid almost six times more for connections than other schools, and districts with more than 50,000 students paid three times as much for a wide-area connection. Rural schools were also significantly less likely to have full wireless access, a fact that Krueger said underscores the need for more flexibile funding.
In June, President Obama called for a redesign of the E-rate program with his ConnectEd initative, calling for more funding and modernization for the program, as well as setting the goal of providing high-speed broadband and wireless Internet access for 99 percent of America's students within five years. But the survey showed that 43 percent of districts reported that their schools could not meet the 100mbps speed requirement outlined in the president's plan.
"The ConnectEd vision is critical because it refocuses the goal of the program on broadband and wireless, and it gives the FCC the opportunity to provide the resources necessary to meet that goal," Krueger said in an email.
The Federal Communications Commission oversees the program, which uses small fees on monthly telephone bills to defray costs of telecommunications equipment and internet access for schools. In July, the FCC released their proposed changes to the E-Rate, which shares many of the same goals promoted by Obama. The rule's public reply comment deadline was October 16, the same day the results of the survey were released.
Other key findings from the survey include these points:
- 57 percent of districts do not believe their school's wireless networks can handle a 1:1 deployment;
- Half of districts use outdated (Cat5 and Cat3) wiring that cannot carry data at increased speeds;
- 99 percent of districts expect they will need more broadband over the next 36 months; and,
- 71 percent of respondents said that recurring monthly costs were the largest barrier to increasing bandwidth.
[UPDATE (Oct. 24): Additional quotes and details were added]