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Va. Seeks to Lower School Broadband Costs Through Price Transparency

Virginia will take part in a new pilot project intended to lower the cost of high-speed Internet access for schools through the promotion of more transparent pricing.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the state's partnership with the San Francisco-based nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, a broadband-advocacy group, on Tuesday.

"Ensuring that all Virginia communities have equal and affordable access to broadband technology is a critical component in developing a 21st-century Virginia economy," McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in a statement. "I am grateful that EducationSuperHighway has selected Virginia for this important project, which will use transparency to drive down broadband costs and provide greater opportunities for innovative learning in classrooms across the commonwealth."

According to the release, Virginia was selected based in part on EducationSuperHighway's findings that its schools are paying about $4 more in monthly megabits-per-second costs than the national average for both Internet access and network connectivity.

Through the partnership, Virginia schools will use an online portal developed by the nonprofit group to report detailed broadband pricing information. Together with state officials, EducationSuperHighway will then "identify factors and practices driving up costs for school divisions and provide technical assistance to school divisions on cutting costs by promoting transparency, encouraging competition, and identifying new service options," according to the statement.

A second state to participate in the pilot is to be named later this summer.

EducationSuperHighway has been vocal about the need for more pricing transparency in school broadband purchasing, particularly as it relates to the federal E-rate program, through which telecommunications services for schools and libraries are subsidized to the tune of $2.4 billion a year.

As my colleague Sean Cavanagh reported last year, some telecommunications companies strongly oppose the idea.

Last month, EducationSuperHighway and the Consortium for School Networking, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, released an analysis concluding that schools need an additional $800 million in E-rate funds each year to meet President Barack Obama's goals for school wireless connectivity.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

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