Human Rights, Connected Students, and 5G

Schools turn to fiber to secure and customize digital education technologies.

GUEST COLUMN | by Doug Romi

In 2016, the United Nations defined internet access a human right due to the essential nature of its function in accessing or exchanging information. Some consider it a luxury. Realistically, the global number of connected devices is expected to reach 75.44 billion by 2025. At this pace, children in 2019 will need high-capacity broadband and digital educational opportunities to learn how to function successfully as adults in an increasingly connected world.

How schools can work with broadband providers and municipalities to receive high-speed broadband at a reduced rate

The internet is transforming every aspect of how we work and live, including how we educate. Although, the question of how schools balance the cost of high-speed broadband against its benefits remains. Moreover, how do they get affordable broadband without breaking the budget?

‘The internet is transforming every aspect of how we work and live, including how we educate.’

School districts have access to federally funded programs dedicated to building out broadband infrastructure. The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) provides telecommunications funding, aka e-rate, to a wide variety of institutions, including schools and libraries. The e-rate program provides discounts for affordable internet access and telecommunications services.

E-rate gives eligible schools and libraries discounts on a broad range of telecommunications services and basic maintenance. Discounts range from 20 to 90 percent, with higher discounts being offered in areas where poverty levels are higher.

When USAC established the e-rate program in 1996, only 14 percent of the nation’s K-12 classrooms had access to the internet. The U.S. Department of Education surveys show that between 1994 and 1999, internet access in public schools rose from 35% to 95%, and access in classrooms rose from 3% to 63%. By 2014, the program had an approved annual funding cap of $3.9 billion.

Ways reliable internet benefits educational programs

To secure funding, school administrators need to document how they incorporate technology into curricula.

Digital technology is already present in the use of tablets and laptops, access to online lectures, testing and instruction. Homebound students and those interested in specialized courses can engage in distance learning opportunities.

High-speed broadband supports synchronous upload and download speeds, providing network users rapid access to educational resources. Digital technology allows computer testing, virtual classrooms, and digital blackboards.

While enhancing the learning for students, it also lightens teacher workloads by allowing them to grade tests faster, allowing focus on other priorities. Digital technology enables new ways of learning, from providing virtual tours and simulation software to visually represent complicated concepts to delivering a broader scope of information that is impossible to fit in textbooks.

The benefit of widespread coverage

The race to build out fiber for 5G is also helping to expand coverage areas of fiber providers into smaller communities and school districts, making digital transformation a reality. However, getting fiber to underserved areas can be expensive. Delays are due to the cost of reaching these areas. Happily, programs like e-rate are making a difference and are a big reason for some of these areas’ progress.

Building networks in rural areas can be costly and logistically difficult. Wired connectivity provides better reliability, but is limited by cost and the physical requirements for placing the fiber. Wireless connectivity requires less infrastructure but provides a less reliable signal and isn’t as good at covering vast distances. It’s also risky for providers to invest in rural areas due to a low population density.

The FCC provides incentives to companies to develop these areas through cutting regulation to spur investment, encouraging cheaper technology alternatives and finding more efficient ways to allocate subsidies.

Broadband helps standardize education and provides opportunities for all students

Economic uncertainties can impact learning system availability, potentially impacting the methods used to transport information. Cloud-based technology applications allow educators to transfer data while securely communicating.

Digital automation can be used to take attendance, place lunch orders, enter student assessment data, and purchase supplies. In this way, processes become more efficient, allowing teachers more time to focus on students.

How to take advantage of e-rate assistance in your school system 

School districts that have e-rate assistance approval should choose a provider that has experience in delivering reliable high bandwidth that will scale as the district grows. As a partner, your provider should be ready to make sure you understand this process and provide the products to help you succeed.

Doug Romi is Director of Enterprise Sales at Missouri-based Bluebird Network, delivering broadband opportunities across the Midwest. Contact him through LinkedIn.


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