Broadband – the Network – Finally Gets Respect in Schools
By Martha Sessums
For last few years, technology has been about hardware and software in schools. The glamour was in hardware like Smartboards that brought visual information from the Internet to the entire class. Tablets and laptops allowed learning anywhere. Digital content, textbooks and curriculum, along with learning and student management systems exploded in sales. Blended learning put it all together, and the “cloud” was last year’s super word.
But a key part of the eLearning equation is the network that makes the technology work. In order to use the video showing students how to solve quadratic equations, it must be downloaded to a device. That path is a network, the broadband that delivers data to and from the device. But it is unseen. Silent. And not as cool as a flashy new tablet that lets you turn in homework from the school bus.
Broadband is tricky too. If you have a skinny path, the video stops and starts or downloads at a crawl, just like a traffic jam. Or if the phone or cable company chooses not to deliver it to your neighborhood, there is no network, or connection, to use. And no eLearning.
But this year, broadband is getting the respect it deserves as a required tool of education. President Obama in his 2014 State of the Union Address pledged to make high-speed broadband available to students through the E-Rate program.
“Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit,” he said.
Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, announced this week the FCC will double the amount of money it spends to provide high-speed Internet connections to schools and libraries by 2015. That’s $2 billion for broadband.
And not just any broadband. Schools need 100 megabits per second to keep up with modern streaming video curriculum. The FCC has pledged to give all schools access to 100 megabits per second by 2015 and one gigabit per second by the end of the decade. Currently, about half the schools receiving E-Rate funds connect to the Internet at the pokey speed of three megabits per second or less, according to a 2010 Harris Interactive report.
One of the Internet access partners Mr. Obama listed is Sprint, the company that provides the ACE network. Sprint has said it will provide LTE services to the Bay Area by the end of 2014, and ACE hopes to provide high-speed broadband to its ACE Partner Schools.
Bandwidth is finally getting some props, some respect.