School System Leaders: Affordability Is Chief Infrastructure Challenge

Annual Infrastructure Survey Lays Out State of Connectivity in U.S. School Districts
Washington, DC
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Washington, DC (November 3, 2015) – School system leaders identified affordability as the primary obstacle for robust connectivity, according to CoSN’s (the Consortium for School Networking’s) 3rd Annual Infrastructure Survey released today.

Conducted in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and MDR, the report collected data from K-12 school leaders and technology directors nationwide.

In addition to affordability, the nationwide survey reveals that districts continue to face significant challenges with improving network speed and capacity and increasing competition for broadband services. The results also detail the impact of changes to the E-rate program, as well as the growing issue of digital equity for technology access outside of the classroom.

“Education is going digital. Yet school system technology leaders face many challenges as they plan their education networks for the future. While progress is happening, policymakers and educators will need to keep their eyes focused on continued investments in robust, reliable education networks with broadband access and WiFi to enable digital learning and address issues of digital equity,” said Keith Krueger, CEO, CoSN.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of the historic vote to raise the funding cap for the E-Rate program and provide unprecedented opportunity for expanded broadband connectivity to our nation’s schools and libraries, this report details the work that remains,” said Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA. “Schools and libraries are undoubtedly connected at levels we could’ve only hoped for a few years ago, but we must heed the information from this survey and remain deliberate in ensuring that expanded access truly translates into expanded connectivity to education networks that bolster and grow digital learning and student achievement.”

“CoSN is once again doing important work in uncovering the progress made and challenges that remain in ensuring all students have the robust Internet access and wireless connectivity required to access digital content anywhere, anytime,” said Kathleen Brantley, Sr. Director, EdNET Insight. “MDR’s research shows that building out wireless networks is, for the fifth year running, districts’ top technology priority with three-fourths of districts rating it a high priority in 2015. We are pleased to partner with CoSN on their annual survey, as it plays a critical role in informing stakeholders of the current state of connectivity in America’s schools and the hurdles yet to be overcome.”

For the third consecutive year, nearly half of school systems identify the cost of ongoing recurring expenses as the biggest barrier to robust connectivity. More than one-third of districts said that capital or upfront expenses are also a challenge to increasing robust Internet connectivity.

Approximately one out of five school systems are paying $50/Mbps or more per month for their Internet connection, and 18 percent pay the same high amount for their WAN connection.

Despite these affordability challenges, there are some positive trends. Internet connection affordability improved since last year, as 36 percent of school systems indicated their monthly cost per Mbps for Internet connection was less than $5 per Mbps – up from 27 percent in 2014. Additionally, school systems with high monthly costs (over $50 per Mbps) for Internet bandwidth decreased from 32 percent in 2014 to 19 percent in 2015.

Other major challenges reported by school leaders regarding network speed and capacity, competition, E-rate changes, and digital equity include:

Network Speed & Capacity

  • Inadequate Connection Speeds: Nearly a quarter of all school systems have reached only 10 percent of the Federal Communications Commission’s short-term broadband connectivity goal (100 Mbps per 1000 students).
  • Inability to Offer Broadband: For 12 percent of all school leaders and 14 percent of rural school system leaders, their Internet providers are at capacity and cannot offer additional bandwidth. Furthermore, one in 10 of those surveyed report that their own transport connection type was at capacity.
  • Not Using Current Wireless Standards: One out of three school systems indicated that they do not use current wireless industry standards (such as 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac).
  • Inadequate Internet Bandwidth: More than two-thirds of school systems do not have sufficient Internet bandwidth for today and the coming 18 months. Despite the current state, one out of four school systems projected between 100 percent and 499 percent Internet growth. 
  • Internet Downtime: One out of four school systems reported unplanned Internet downtime in their school system for at least three days during the year.

There was improvement in some areas of network speed & capacity:

  • Expanding Use of Lit Fiber: More than 70 percent of school system leaders indicated that they are using lit fiber for transport types for WAN operations, a dramatic one-year increase from 46 percent in 2014. This means many more schools have the capacity to provide broadband speeds to the school door.
  • Improving Wide Area Network Connection Speeds: Nearly six in 10 reported WAN speeds of 1 Gbps or more, a modest improvement from 53 percent in 2014.
  • More Schools Have Faster Wireless Access Points: More than 60 percent of school systems reported typical connection speed of fast 1 Gbps access, slightly more than half in 2014.
  • Increased Confidence in Wireless Connectivity: Up from 58 percent in 2014, two-thirds of school systems indicated their WiFi could handle a 1:1 initiative (28 percent very confident and 38 percent somewhat confident).

Lack of Competition

  • Persisting Problem Coast-to-Coast: Nearly half of school systems (though down from 60 percent in 2014) indicated that lack of competition is a problem, often with only one Internet provider serving rural districts. Without multiple providers, it is difficult for school systems to have a redundancy plan.
  • Few Qualified Bids: Nearly one-third of school systems received one or fewer qualified bids for E-rate connectivity services in 2015 (Category 1).
  • Challenge Amplified in Rural Areas: Lack of competition is more severe in rural school systems, with more than one-third having received one or fewer proposals for connectivity services.

Impact of E-rate Changes

  • Perspectives on Modernized E-rate: Nearly half of district leaders had positive views on the changes to the E-rate program to focus on broadband and LAN/Wi-Fi.
  • Phase Down of POTS Affecting School Systems: Nine in 10 district leaders reported that the phase down of the plain old telephone service (POTS) significantly affected or at least somewhat affected their school system.

Rising Digital Inequity

  • Lack of Digital Equity Strategies: Three out of four school systems do not have any off campus strategies for connecting students at home and after school.
  • Unaffordable Internet and Limited Service at Home: Overwhelmingly, 88 percent of school system leaders believe that cost was the biggest barrier for families who do not have Internet access at home. Additionally, more than 40 percent of households do not have ready access to broadband service.

Gathering more than 530 responses from district leaders across 48 states, the survey results represent urban, rural, and suburban school systems as well as large, medium, and small school systems with different needs and priorities.

To read the full results, please visit: cosn.org/Infrastructure2015.

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About CoSN

CoSN is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. The mission of CoSN is to empower educational leaders to leverage technology to realize engaging learning environments. Visit cosn.org or call 866-267-08747 to find out more about CoSN’s focus areas, annual conference and events, advocacy and policy, membership and the CETL certification exam.

About AASA


AASA, The School Superintendents Association, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, visit www.aasa.org.

About MDR

MDR is the leading U.S. provider of education information and integrated marketing services that helps organizations connect with educators in K-12, higher education, public libraries, and early childhood. MDR’s EdNET Insight is the K-12 education industry’s premier marketing intelligence and consulting service, combining the proven power of research and analysis with recognized industry experts to deliver an insightful, comprehensive view of the trends and influences that are shaping the education market today-and tomorrow. For more information on EdNET Insight, visit www.schooldata.com/mdrednetinsight.asp.

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