Friday, March 26, 2010

Broadband For All

I don't really remember when exactly I started using the Internet at school. It was sometime in high school but I didn't really pay much attention to it. In college I was in the first Freshman class in the state of North Carolina required to bring a computer when we started in the Fall. Now, if you don't have one you are part of a very small minority. Think about trying to teach students today about various Web 2.0 tools or use streaming media as part of your class and you can't because your school is still on dial-up. Or when students go home they don't have access to high speed Internet. This is a reality in a lot of rural places around this country.

I live in a pretty populated part of central North Carolina so access to high speed internet isn't really a problem. But if you go just 20 miles in any direction you will travel to some of the most rural (and beautiful) parts of our state. There the story is completely different. Residents in several of the surrounding counties complain that they might live less than a mile from a high speed line but the provider won't bring it up to their home. So these people are stuck with dial-up.

Here is a story that ran on our local news just a few days ago:

And it is not just here. Over the weekend I was traveling through rural southern Virginia and Tennessee and saw signs encouraging law makers to consider legislation "encouraging" providers to expand broadband networks and heard a story out of southern Kentucky about students in distance learning programs were struggling because of the lack of access to high-speed Internet. 

The FCC recently unveiled the National Broadband Plan which aims to bring high-speed Internet into every home and school in the country. While reading about this plan I got into a conversation with a member of the Broadband For America Group. Before talking to her I never really thought about broadband access in school. I took for granted the fact that most schools had internet but many across the country still had dial-up. 

Below is an Op-Ed from Broadband For America on high-speed access and education:

"The National Broadband Plan, which was recently published by the Federal Communications Commission, has the potential to be of great benefit to teachers, students, and parents.  The NBP specifically points to the educational aspects to expanding the reach and adoption of broadband access to the Internet.
The NBP states “97 percent of American schools now have Internet access.”  While we assume that the majority of schools with Internet connections have high-speed access, it is the rural schools which are most likely to need high speed access but are most likely to be limited to dial-up connections.
Students in urban and suburban areas are most likely to have broadband access in their homes because of cable or fiber connections from their cable or phone company.  They can use all of the content-rich websites available around the world to enhance their research and the work they hand in, in this era of more students competing for a static number of slots at high quality colleges and universities.
Students in rural areas, however, may only have access to a broadband connection to the internet at their local library or at their school.  It is quite clear that a student with broadband access in his or her bedroom has an enormous advantage over the student who needs transportation to the county library, or needs to be picked up after the school buses are long-gone having utilized their school’s broadband connection.
Aside from student requirements, schools which have a broadband connection to the Internet can become a hub of local activity by adding wireless access points and allowing anyone from the community to utilize the service for legitimate needs.
This can serve to re-connect adults to their local school system, even if their own children have long ago left for college and a job in the city.  As a strategic matter, schools and school districts can leverage this renewed association to identify allies when funding, land, or other issues are on the table.
A point which is very important to school districts, but which is too often overlooked, is the ability of the faculty to utilize broadband Internet connections to enhance their individual skills or monitor the latest developments in their teaching specialty.  The ability of teachers to do advanced course work on-line over a broadband connection will improve the overall quality of teaching, and will help rural districts retain teachers who are interested in gaining advanced degrees.
The snowstorms which pelted the Eastern seaboard this past winter caused the cancellation of classes for well over a week; which will lead to school calendars extending into the summer.  We should be working toward a day when a “snow day” simply means that each student turns on their computer, connects their teacher through a Skype-type of application, and go through their day as if they were physically in school, changing classes every 50 minutes.
America is still the envy of the world for its creativity and its ability to rise to a challenge. Our current challenge is to ensure that every student has access to a broadband connection to the Internet so they can take advantage of the wide range of benefits high-speed Internet access provides."

I encourage you to check out their website and if you live in an area where high-speed access is an issue drop a note to your representatives asking them to support the plan. On their site you can also see the broadband statistics for your state and learn more about what you can do. After all we want our kids to have access to the latest and the greatest and we can't so long as that dial-up sound is still the standard in some parts of our country.


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