Education Week - January 13, 2016 - (Page 11)

REVERSING A RAW DEAL The struggle to bring affordable high-speed Internet to rural schools The farming town of Vardaman, Miss., is the self-described "Sweet Potato Capital of the World." PART 1 The Slowest Internet In Mississippi High school junior C.J. Weddle, center, hopes to go to a four-year college, but worries that her school's poor Internet access will hold her back. Stuck with huge bills for lousy Internet service, many rural schools are missing out on the digital revolution By Benjamin Herold Calhoun County, Miss. H ere in the tiny town of Vardaman, everything moves slowly. Especially the Internet at the local high school. The trouble begins early each morning. Teachers sweettalk their computers while trying to load the school's online attendance system. A few get lucky. The rest shake their heads, write the names of absent children on a sheet of paper, and send a student to the main office. On this fall day, school secretary Lisa Sutherland is given 15 names to enter. Each click of her mouse is followed by an excruciating delay. The system times out. Sutherland grits her teeth and starts over. Nearly half an hour after it begins, a process that should take seconds is finally complete. The 2,500 students in Calhoun County can't do Internet research in school. Computerized state testing here last spring was a disaster. Teachers have given up on using online tools in the classroom. The district has given up on buying the new digital technologies that are transforming schools elsewhere. And the most outrageous part: For the privilege of being stuck with the slowest Internet service in all of Mississippi, the nine-school Calhoun County district is billed $9,275 each month. "Frustrating is a mild word for it," said Mike Moore, the district's superintendent. "Smaller districts like us are at a tremendous disadvantage." It's true, despite a rapidly evolving landscape. Over the past two years, the United States has made huge strides in connecting schools, including those in rural areas. More than threequarters of districts nationally now provide at least adequate Internet access, according to a recent analysis by the broadband-advocacy group EducationSuperHighway. But 1 in 5 rural districts still can't access the fiber-optic cables that are bringing high-speed Internet to schools elsewhere, the analysis found. And even when they do get decent connections, rural schools are typically charged far more than their urban and suburban counterparts. The result, experts say, is that many rural districts still face a steep climb to meet long-term federal goals for school connectivity, even though most currently provide students with the minimum recommended bandwidth. "The challenge for rural America is the future," said Evan Marwell, EducationSuperHighway's CEO. "If we don't get affordable fiber out to those communities, they're going to get left behind." Geography, bad policy, and a severe shortage of technical expertise within schools all contribute to the problem. So do the business practices of telecoms: AT&T and Verizon have been accused in lawsuits and other legal actions of bilking the system of millions of dollars, while many smaller companies have taken advantage of local monopolies and generous federal subsidies. Ultimately, efforts to find a solution will be underwritten by the American people. Fees on consumers' phone bills fund the federal program called the E-rate. The E-rate, in turn, covers a portion of the cost of phone and Internet service for schools and libraries. Since its inception in 1996, the program has paid out over $30 billion. This school year, it has begun paying out even more. In late 2014, the Federal Communications Commission approved a huge increase in E-rate spending, to $3.9 billion each year. Over the objections of the powerful telecom lobby, the commission also approved a number of policy changes intended to help rural schools. The idea is that more money, plus more competition, will add up to faster, SEE MORE ONLINE > This extensive examination of ed-tech challenges in rural schools was first published online. The online presentation features more in-depth narratives, additional charts and photos, and interactive features. ONLINE EXTRAS: WEBINAR: Watch an on-demand webinar, Wiring Rural Schools, featuring experts from the U.S. Department of Education and the Consortium for School Networking. WiringRuralSchools Photography by Swikar Patel/ Education Week EDUCATION WEEK | January 13, 2016 | | 11

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 13, 2016

Education Week - January 13, 2016
Education Still Struggling for Traction as Campaign Issue
School Revenue Squeezed in Oil, Coal States
Feds to K-12: Ensure Safety For Muslims
Report Roundup
News in Brief
Political Winds Buffet Tenn.’s Achievement School District
Charter Sector to Get $1 Billion Boost From Walton
In the ‘Chess Capital’ of St. Louis, Game Takes Root in Poor Districts
Blogs of the Week
Education Week Launches Premium Site for K-12 Companies
The Slowest Internet in Mississippi
Rural Schools, Telecoms Battle Over Internet Pricing
‘Washington Gave Us Leverage’
Amid Its Own Changes, Research Office Gears Up for New ESSA Duties
Education Department Begins to Scope Out ESSA-Era Role
Blogs of the Week
Own the ‘Messy Dress’ of Scholarship
Stick to the Truth
Embrace the ‘Hurly Burly’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Edu-Scholars and the Public Square: What Is Our Responsibility?

Education Week - January 13, 2016