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Evan Marwell

In the push to bring high-speed Internet to the classroom, Evan Marwell sees strong positive trends.

“When we started, there were just over 4 million kids in this country with access to the high-speed broadband they needed. As of last July, we were up to 35 million kids who have access in school. That is unbelievable momentum,” said Marwell, the founder and CEO of the broadband advocacy group EducationSuperHighway.

By his reckoning, some 2.4 million teachers in 70,000 schools are now achieving a minimum Wi-Fi speed goal of 100 kilobytes per second per student.

Marwell’s organization drew national attention to its effort through its SchoolSpeedTest. By sampling broadband access in 30 states, organizers were able to demonstrate that two-thirds of school districts in the United States — representing 40 million students — needed Internet connectivity upgrades. At least 42 governors have pledged to upgrade their infrastructure as a result.

Why make broadband a mission? As Marwell sees it, Internet access is the great leveler for education. “When you look at the teaching and learning that is being done today, if you don’t have access to quality broadband, you are clearly at a disadvantage,” he said. “It brings experiences to the classroom that kids otherwise wouldn’t have, and it brings all kinds of new learning modalities. This is the future of education, and if you don’t have good broadband, you’re going to be left behind.”

The push for broadband has been successful, he said, because unlike so many other issues and challenges in education, Internet access seems so fixable. “There are not a lot of problems that have such a finite endpoint,” Marwell explained. “In this case, we didn’t have to invent new technology. It was just about figuring out who needed to be upgraded and how we could get them upgraded at a price they could afford. People see that as doable.” — Adam Stone