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Surveying Broadband Issues Faced by Students Under COVID-19, CoSN Offers Its Recommendations

The speed of the broadband service used was only one component of the issues students faced.

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Photo of Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium of School Networking, from Millennium Sustainable Education

May 8, 2021—The Consortium for School Networking recently published the “Student Home Connectivity Study,” which offered recommendations regarding distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CoSN collected data from thirteen school distracts representing rural, suburban, and urban communities, and approximately 750,000 K-12 students. The authors of the study divided their findings into four topics.

Broadband video connections as part of distance learning

The first such topic pertained to the ability of students to utilize video components of distance learning. Researchers noted that both asynchronous and synchronous videos were a mainstay in distance learning despite the high upload and download speed requirements necessary to sustain such a service.

According to the study, more than 85 percent of network traffic related to remote learning is just for video.

The study also noted that the use of video-intensive content is expected to continue to increase, and with it, the demand for faster, more reliable, broadband.

It can be demanding enough to have a single student both downloading and uploading video content at once, but researchers found that 70 percent of students live in households with at least one other student. Without sufficient download and upload speeds, students were unable to engage in distance learning uninterrupted.

Connectivity habits

The second topic reflected student behavior and habits when using broadband—namely, that students are highly mobile and rely on Wi-Fi to access distance learning services. Of the students surveyed, 92 percent used Wi-Fi rather than a wired connection. Now that students are no longer required to attend school in person, researchers observed that many would engage in class from public spaces, a classmate’s home, or even from a different city or state.

The study also noted that students are typically not using Wi-Fi on a single device, and that in addition to a laptop or desktop computer, many also had smartphones and tablets that competed for bandwidth.

Compounding the issue is that many of the students surveyed possessed services that could provide sufficient broadband speeds, but they were using outdated hardware that weakened their Wi-Fi connections. Additional factors such as router location and house construction also presented obstacles to Wi-Fi use.

Addressing underserved communities

The third category were issues related to community distance learning in underserved communities, particularly in rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission and legislators have recognized that, for some, the rural broadband experience can be similar to the broadband experience in the inner city.

The study indicated that even students living in areas about the average socioeconomic status did not automatically have access to sufficient broadband for distance learning.

Distance learning experience by quality of devices

The final topic juxtaposed students’ distance learning experience to the quality of the devices they had access to. Unsurprisingly, students with older devices or devices with limited memory or processing power often had a worse experience than students with newer and/or more powerful devices.

Processing speed, memory, CPU utilization, application limits, the quality of Wi-Fi antennae, and Wi-Fi access frequencies were all metrics that were considered when evaluating devices. The worse those items were, the worse the experience generally was for the students surveyed.

Recommended solutions

The researchers made several recommendations to address these topics. Some of the recommendations were about taking advantage of existing programs, like the Emergency Connectivity Fund, and leveraging state and federal funds to provide better services for students. Some of the services exampled were Wi-Fi hotspots on buses, at stadiums, and other public areas that students could access to do their classwork.

Other solutions involved working with ISPs to ensure that community needs are addressed in an affordable manner. One such example was ISPs providing free satellite internet to households unable to afford a broadband subscription. Researchers also suggested that local school districts establish CBRS and LTE broadband services to affordably transmit data packages to students.

The study also provided a list of criteria that school districts should consider if they decide to purchase and loan devices to students. They included obvious things such as Wi-Fi capability, but also included items that can be easily overlooked, such as an integrated webcam/microphone and a headphone port.

Even as the pandemic appears to be drawing to a close, distance learning will likely continue to play a significant role in how students learn for the foreseeable future.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Education

Federal Communications Commission Says $5 Billion Requested for Emergency Connectivity Fund — in Just Round One!

The program is designed to help schools, libraries and students.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 25, 2021—Two months after launching the first round of applications, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the Emergency Connectivity Fund has received more than $5 billion in funding requests.

The requests, which came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, are for 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The $7-billion program, whose first round closed August 13, provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity is expected to help students stay connected at school and off school premises, addressing the “homework gap” made paramount during the pandemic.

The money is to be used for said services and devices purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The program will open a second round for applications due to a spike in new coronavirus cases, which will run from September 28 to October 13.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and this robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Wednesday press release.

“This funding is an important down payment in closing the Homework Gap so that all children, regardless of their circumstances or where they live, have access to the tools they need to succeed,” she added.

Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The FCC has previously noted that the Emergency Broadband Benefit had proved out that there is demand for such a program and that the ECF would help fill the gap.

Breakdown by state

The FCC included a breakdown of the first-round requests by state. California was the top requester at roughly $812 million, followed by New York with $559 million, Texas with $496 million, Florida with $264 million, New Jersey with $225 million, Arizona with $200 million, Illinois at $197 million, Georgia $183 million, North Carolina with $149 million, Michigan with $108 million, Ohio with $103 million, and Puerto Rico with $102 million, and Washington rounding out the 9-digit requesters with $101 million.

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Education

NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

The $285-million program will help connect minority educational institutions.

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Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

August 4, 2021–The agency managing telecommunications policy for the commerce department has released details Tuesday on eligibility for its $285-million grant program for broadband access for minority educational institutions.

The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program, announced in June, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity and equity at historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a notice of funding opportunity for the program, established via the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which will grant funds to eligible recipients to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel, operate a minority business enterprise or a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and facilitate educational instruction, including remote instruction.

Eligible institutions include 501 Hispanic-serving institutions, 336 Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, 104 predominantly Black institutions, 102 historically Black colleges and universities, 66 Alaska native-serving institutions and native Hawaiian-serving institutions, 37 Tribal colleges and universities, and 32 native American-serving non-Tribal institutions.

The deadline to submit applications is December 1, 2021.

“Communities of color have faced systemic barriers to affordable broadband access since the beginning of the digital age,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

“The investments we make as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will help communities that are struggling with access, adoption and connectivity, and will inform our path forward as we seek to finally close the digital divide across the country,” she added.

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Education

Broadband Breakfast CEO Drew Clark and BroadbandNow’s John Busby Speak on Libraries and Broadband

Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark of Broadband Breakfast and John Busby of BroadbandNow.

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July 16, 2021—Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, joined by John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow. The event will take place on July 16, 2021, at 11 a.m. ET.

Registration for the event is available on Eventbrite. The session will also be available on Zoom.

Beginning in March of 2020, the Gigabit Libraries Network has hosted a series of conversations called the “Libraries in Recovery.”

The series is ambitious in its scope, and poses the question “What is a library if the building is closed?” Over the course of its more than 50 episodes, the the series has tackled myriad topics, ranging from equity, access, and inclusion to smart cities, social infrastructure, and the future of libraries.

The series recorded its first episode on March 26, 2020—only 15 days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The episode discussed the importance of internet access during a time when many questions about the pandemic were still swirling, and many of the ramifications had yet to be felt—only a week prior had the first states begun issuing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Broadband Breakfast also launched its webcast series, Broadband Breakfast Live Online, around the same time. The first session of the Broadband Breakfast series was on “Coronavirus and Education – Getting Ready for Online Education.”

Broadband Breakfast Live Online Archives provides links to all events in the Broadband Breakfast series.

Many of the Gigabit Libraries conversations and initiatives surrounding digital inclusion and the digital divide have only drifted into mainstream conversation in the wake of the pandemic.

During a time when many Americans had no idea how long they would have to remain indoors, “Libraries in Recovery” was discussing methods of boosting Wi-Fi signals to make internet available in library parking lots and the importance of remote access in anticipation of a surge in demand.

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