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As high-speed Internet service becomes more ubiquitous in American households, some might be surprised to learn that a “digital divide” exists in many of our schools. According to a 2014 blog post from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, “Forty-one percent of America’s rural schools couldn’t get a high-speed connection if they tried”—where a high-speed connection is defined as offering download speeds of 10 Mbps or higher. While Chairman Wheeler may have been correct to note that these schools don’t have adequate connectivity, he was incorrect to conclude that they cannot get it. The fact is high-quality satellite Internet is available virtually everywhere, nationwide, and at affordable prices—no matter where you live, work, or go to school.
As a result, the digital divide is a misnomer; what exists today is a terrestrial digital divide, due to economics. In lower population density areas, the business case for terrestrial providers to deploy broadband technologies, be it fiber, cable or DSL, is simply not justified.
To help schools nationwide—particularly those in terrestrial digital divide areas—President Obama announced the ConnectED initiative in June 2013; a program designed to provide next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless connectivity to transform classrooms for 99% of U.S. students by 2017. Also benefiting schools and libraries is the E-rate program administered by the FCC, which enables them to gain satellite solutions at subsidized costs. Authorized E-rate vendors, such as Hughes, can offer satellite solutions like HughesNet® Gen4 Internet service to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to support a single school or multiple locations within a school system.
“Our mission is to get the word out that rural schools do, in fact, have access to high-speed connectivity—namely satellite broadband,” said Tony Bardo, assistant vice president of Government Solutions. “Hughes satellite broadband coverage is available nationwide and with a choice of budget-friendly plans; programs like ConnectED and E-rate can further help any administration to make the right decision of bringing our children the high levels of Internet access they need to succeed in the 21st Century economy.”
Consider the case of a small, 100-year-old school district in northwest Montana with a single classroom school for grades K-8 and close to 90% of its students coming from low-income families. The school had no access to terrestrial broadband and even their existing Wi-Fi had to be limited to staff use only. After assessing alternatives, Hughes was contacted and soon installed a powerful solution consisting of a small antenna on the school’s roof and an indoor router, that now delivers three times or higher Internet access speeds than before. And because Hughes is an authorized E-rate vendor, they were also able to slash their Internet costs by 20%. Now, with higher speeds and bandwidth, multiple students can work online simultaneously accessing new Cloud-based educational software to support their curricula. Down the road, it’s likely the students will connect to online courses, video lessons, or even to virtual classrooms to access subjects not available in their community.
This example and others illustrate that high-quality satellite connectivity is available to rural schools at a range of affordable price points, putting an end to the misnomer of a digital divide for any school, in any location. For local governments and school administrators, now is the time to seize the opportunities made possible by the White House’s ConnectEd initiative and the FCC’s E-rate program, and to transform all schools so they can readily deliver all of our children a 21st Century education.