EducationSuperHighway Releases Annual "State of the States" Report

EducationSuperHighway’s founder and CEO Evan Marwell talks about his organization's efforts to bring fiber to the nation's final 2,000 public schools, the decreasing costs of broadband and the uncertainties around the FCC's plans for the E-Rate program.

by Susan Gentz / September 19, 2017 0

EducationSuperHighway is the leading non-profit focused on upgrading Internet access in every public school classroom in America. Founded in 2012, EducationSuperHighway catalyzed federal and state action on K-12 broadband initiatives by working with governors in more than 20 states covering over 20 million students. 

"There are just over 2,000 schools across the country that don’t yet have the fiber optic connections they need to be part of the digital learning opportunities out there," said Evan Marwell, Founder & CEO of EducationSuperHighway (and 2017 CDE Top 30 Award Recipient). "These schools are predominantly in in small-town locations. Although there is still work to do, great progress was made, and this number was cut down from over 3,700 schools last year.”

Not only has EducationSuperHighway increased the schools that are connected, but they are also working to improve the affordability of broadband. In 2013, the median cost per Mbps was $22; in 2015 it was $11.73; in 2016 the cost dropped to $7 per Mbps; and in 2017 the cost for students has dropped below $5.

"This is amazing because when looking at the last 6.5 million kids that need to get connected, it turns out that over 6 million can get the broadband they need without spending more money, by getting [the rate] a peer district is already getting,” said Marwell. "In almost two-thirds of cases, the service provider that a district is already using is giving a different district a deal to meet the broadband goal.”

Marwell sees tremendous progress, but knows there are still students who need to be connected. He is also encouraged that there are 46 governors engaged in this mission, and every governor elected since 2016 has taken significant action on this work, including 17 who have put up matching funds for connectivity, amounting to $200 million collectively. “Service providers have also been a key partner in schools for this work, taking 64 percent of schools that have enough broadband to 100 percent in 9 states," commented Marwell.

Q&A with Evan Marwell

Center for Digital Education:What surprised you the most about 2017?

Evan Marwell: The fact that we can continue to see the dramatic progress in connecting schools to fiber. Two years ago, almost 10,000 schools weren’t connected. It was a challenge to convince state leaders that fiber was important. We have seen state leaders, the FCC, and districts come to the point of view that fiber is the only technology that schools can use to scale their bandwidth to keep up with the requirements to meet the needs of the classroom. The fact that only 2,000 are left is incredible, but still shows there is much work yet to be done.

CDE: What makes you the most proud of the work done at EducationSuperhighway?

EM: I am most proud of the incredible team and partnerships developed over the last five years. When we got started in 2012, there were just a couple of people in California. Now, there are over 70 on EducationSuperHighway, incredible partnerships with FCC, governors, state leaders, and really, it’s become a movement. Because of this movement, 39 million students now have access to broadband.

CDE: Where are the challenges for the next one, five or 10 years?

EM: In the immediate term, it’s the question of how are we going to get fiber-optic connections to the last 2,000 schools. These are the schools that don’t have the money to pay for the construction, and are really relying on E-Rate and matching funds to get it done. Even with these resources, it is still going to be hard. The approval process for E-Rate funds must be less burdensome and faster.

Further out, once we meet our goal of meeting the threshold, it’s important that people understand that’s not the end point. That’s the minimum threshold.

Longer term is going to be driving up the bandwidth without driving up the budget.

CDE: Has the presidential administration change and new chair of FCC changed your work, if so, how?

The good news about the FCC, Chairman Pai and the White House is they are very committed to closing the digital divide. People are on pins and needles about what might need to change in the future. Chairman Pai is talking about significant changes to the E-Rate program. Our hope is that he leaves the program in place but will make administrative changes for efficiency. We need to make sure the FCC fast-tracks E-Rate dollars, not slow rolls.

Read EducationSuperHighway’s “State of the States” Report.

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