Federal Communications Commission


November 25th, 2009 by Steve Midgeley - Education Director

As we progress in our work on the national broadband plan as it relates to education, we are focusing on evaluating three key gap areas:  connectivity required for schools and applications, the ecosystem necessary for broadband to advance progress in education, and the incentives that need to be aligned to realize the potential of broadband.
Thanks to E-rate, virtually all of our schools and libraries are connected. The most recent statistics put the number at approximately 94% connected instructional rooms (classrooms and similar). While ostensibly good news, the key questions are what is the level of connectivity in these classrooms and is it sufficient to meet the needs of students mastering 21st century skills.  There is evidence of significant increases in teachers’ use of the Internet for classroom-related work (in 2007 nearly half of teachers report using the Web for preparation compared with fewer than a third in 2005), yet more than half of teachers report dissatisfaction with connection speed for their current usage, which involves predominantly low-bandwidth tasks. Imagine the level of dissatisfaction when their usage needs require greater bandwidth.  According to CIOs in school districts across the country, projected bandwidth needs are projected to grow five times current levels by 2013.  How can the E-Rate program best support the learning objectives of our schools and teachers?
However necessary it is, connectivity isn’t the only thing that matters.  There is a lot lacking in terms of pervasive and effective use of technology in our classrooms today – the broadband ecosystem is weak in multiple dimensions.  This is due, in large part, to a lack of innovation in the field.  For example, we need better, smarter applications to support the ecosystem related to broadband in education.  The questions we are exploring include how to bring the kind of innovation from other sectors into education.  As Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation at the US Department of Education, noted in our August workshop, something is wrong with our priorities when we have a “Genius” functionality for music selection on our I-Pods that uses a complex algorithm to predict what we would like to hear next and we don’t have anything nearly that sophisticated to anticipate what skills a student lacks and what specific application or content might be both effective for and compelling to him.  Imagine a world of personalized, just-in-time learning enabled by broadband.
Finally, the education community needs better aligned incentives to realize the potential of broadband in schools.  As an incentive investment program, E-rate has proven very effective. Yet there are potential changes in rules and regulation, investment strategies, and standards development that could have an equally significant impact.  Imagine a world where all education content and devices use common, interoperable standards to securely share content and instructional data. The effect could be aggregation of once-fragmented demand of individual classrooms and schools. How many new entrepreneurs could enter the education market? How many of those entrepreneurs might be teachers or former teachers? What would this mean for the education outcomes of the next generation of American students?
Through broadband as a platform we can help bring sufficient connectivity, standards and appropriate incentives to permit innovation. We can also expand the rewards for creativity, engagement and personalized learning. While there are no silver bullets, these strategies should help create greater educational opportunities available to all students.



  1. martinamc says:

    There is good news in this study: broadband is available almost everywhere and those who don't use broadband at home have many reasons for it. Mostly they are not interested

  2. Guest says:

    You are just WRONG! At least in the sense that a single T-1 for an entire school constitute "sufficient connectivity." My guess is that the going forward standard ought to be about 5 Mpbs per STUDENT, and that connectivity at that standard is much closer to ZERO than 94%.

    I also think that it is NOT the lack of innovation per se, but the lack of distribution of such innovations through teacher training, parent awareness, student awareness, etc. There are a large number of great ideas, and even great products; there is a substantial dearth of efforts to "spread the word" about such ideas, especially because the connectivity is way below what it needs to be.

    Roland J. Cole, Ph.D., J.D.
    Director of Techonology Policy
    Sagamore Institute for Policy Research

  3. Guest says:

    Sounds as if you have never been to a K-12 School

  4. Guest says:

    @Guest 7:02PM - re-read the article post: "the key questions are what is the level of connectivity in these classrooms and is it sufficient to meet the needs of students mastering 21st century skills."

    Figuring out what the connectivity levels are is the first step in determining if they are insufficient. Defining a standard as to what sufficiency means is also important, as you point out.

    The article didn't say that classrooms are sufficiently connected, it said they were connected.

  5. Guest says:

    I dont believe the school system should be teaching this i believe it should be left to the parents to teach there children about the world wide web. Other wise the schools will have to keep up with upgrades ect. The scool are already complaining in many areas that they are out or going to run out of money is it wise to have them or make them spend more. Dont get me wroung its nice having PCs in the classrooms but it was a prize when i went to school and i learned how to use them on my own without hlp. The point is its not a class and it shouldnt be schools are for Academics not technology thats what college is for or after school classes or seminars. PCs are just an added exspense that the schools dont need noy only that but some teachers are not as good as others when it comes to different OS, Plus each school might have different OSs. Its just not a good idea plus if a child is gifted when it comes to cmomputers then if there smart enough which there are some that are hacking security systems in the classrooms just to not have limitations can will probably happen then the school is at fault becuase the teacher or someone else let it happen without limits there are alot of bad stuff on the web for little eyes. Just me as a parent, As a tech-e Go Broadband !

  6. Guest says:

    The previous commentator must have been very angry when writing. If not, as an elementary/middle school educator of 42 years, I recommend he/she get a spelling and grammar program to work with.
    There are some very valid points in his/her replies, however. Connectivity is just the tip of the iceberg. In most schools I've seen and/or worked in, the teachers are just now getting comfortable with entering grades and doing attendance. Many are older and do not see how the computer can help students learn unless it is drill and practice or 'learning games'.
    There IS software out there (not enough though) and the number of teachers who are trained in it's use is rising across the country. The problem is that most teachers think it is great, but then go back to their classrooms and don't use it. If districts, curriculum directors, and principals don't 'insist' on it's usage, it sits on the shelf and quickly becomes outdated.
    There is such a mismatch of hardware in our schools. Computer labs are Windows based while classrooms have Macs in them. Districts do not have the money to keep the hardware up-to-date so the recent, more awesome software can be used - especially where graphics are concerned.
    The last thing I'd like to include is about where the districts allocate their technology funds. Most goes first to the high schools and most high schools are really well-equipped with up-to-date programs. Then, of course is the middle school. If money is left over they may get some new hardware and software. However, a lot of times they get the hand-me-downs from the high school. Now elementary! If the computer is even running when the middle school is finished, the elementary school gets it. Say they get 20 computers. There are usually 40+ classrooms in an elementary school. Who gets them? The problem is getting critical at that level because most recent programs for elementary students require the ability to use extensive graphics. The smaller number of computers in the classroom means you do not do small group instruction on the computers, you do whole group. But that means a projector. There may be one for the grade level if their lucky.
    Now sure, there are many affluent districts for whom this is not the case. However, the students who need it the most are the ones in our inner cities and small towns. A large percentage of these families still do not have internet access at home.
    So, if we want developers to create more and better software, get the level of hardware up in schools. Thank goodness this is a economy based on capitalism. Set up the need for better software and it will come.
    By the way, most kids get into trouble on their home computers than on school computers. think about it!

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