As K12 education becomes more interconnected to videos, photos, software and Internet offerings for project-based learning and other lessons, there is a great need for schools not to only have access to broadband but also to have enough broadband to keep up with the array of new tools used in class.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t have data that distinguish between schools that have dial-up access or 100MB networks, which is the least space needed now, and has called for an inventory of the broadband infrastructure in schools today. So, entrepreneurs Evan Marwell and Tony Swei created a small nonprofit company named Education Superhighway.
The three goals of the company are: compile a national database of the Internet access in schools; create a centralized group of network technicians to aggregate best practices and provide technical expertise to schools that need it; and facilitate collective purchasing of Internet access and infrastructure by the nation’s more than 14,000 school districts.
The first goal is essentially conducting what is called a National School Broadband Test. Using the company’s network testing application online, it can collect the actual performance of a school’s broadband infrastructure and key information about the school’s network. This test started in September, and welcomes every district to get involved. According to Swei, co-founder and COO of Education Superhighway, four out of five schools are deficient and some have 1/10th or even 1/100th of what they should have in bandwidth.
“This will tell us which schools do not have sufficient broadband and what solutions are likely to be required to deploy sufficient broadband at each school,” Swei says.
The company is striving to get 1 million teachers, principals, librarians, administrators or students to take three minutes to run the company’s test application from their school network. The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Federal Communications Commission are behind it, speaking about and encouraging K12 educators this fall to take the three-minute test online.
Once the company has the information, they will determine how districts, most of which are cash-strapped and can’t afford additional technical expertise, can upgrade their infrastructure and take advantage of FCC’s eRate program. Since 2003, eRate, which provides $2-3 billion per year to schools for Internet access, infrastructure and telecommunications services, has helped connect more than 99 percent of schools. Swei says that his company will also work to help individual districts find buying power, either in cooperatives or consortiums, so they don’t have to pay so much to get the bandwidth they need.
The long-term goal for Education Superhighway is to develop a low-cost network assessment appliance, or hardware, that monitors a district’s bandwidth and can search out any potential programs, Swei says.
To sign up for the broadband test or learn more about the program, visit www.educationsuperhighway.org. —Angela Pascopella