For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education is providing a comprehensive picture of where broadband is available in schools and colleges across the country with a new interactive map released last week. The map extends the National Broadband Map effort launched in February by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The education broadband map can be viewed online at data.ed.gov.
Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity. Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment, where students and teachers have customizable digital learning resources at their fingertips, instead of one-text-fits-all print materials. Such digital tools greatly extend the quality and variety of materials available to support teaching and learning. In these classrooms, broadband powers learning environments that respond to a student’s needs in real time and move aggressively to elevate achievement. Quality broadband service also provides students in rural America the same online access to these digital resources as students in the heart of New York City.
Where exactly does the data for the interactive map come from? A nationwide understanding of broadband access in schools is now available through the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, a matching grant program that implements the joint purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA) administered by the NTIA. In less than one year, grantees performed two rounds of data collection from 3,400 broadband providers operating in states, representing more than 1,650 unique broadband companies nationally. Grantees also surveyed broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, which included schools, colleges, universities, libraries and community centers.
The conclusions from the data show that community anchor institutions are largely underserved. For example, based on an analysis by state education technology directors, most schools need a connection of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. However, the data show that two-thirds of surveyed schools subscribe to speeds lower than 25 Mbps. In addition, only four percent of libraries reported subscribing to speeds greater than 25 Mbps. To see which areas have quality access to a high-speed Internet connection and those that are reported underserved, visit the Education Broadband Map.
The Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan sets a goal that all students and teachers will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning, when and where they need it. Broadband access is a critical part of that infrastructure. This map shows best data to date and efforts will continue to gather better data and continually refresh the maps.
Karen Cator is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.