Compared to other US states, Alaska has a serious Internet connectivity gap with many schools not having access to broadband mainly due to poverty, geographical challenges, and a lack of infrastructure able to support high-speed Internet. Nine in ten schools in the state do not meet the national 1000 Kbps benchmark.
According to a new report by the nonprofit Education SuperHighway titled “2015 State of the States: A report on the state of connectivity in America’s K-12 public schools,” while there’s been progress in recent years, 21 million students nationwide still don’t have broadband access for learning.
The report echoes research that shows Alaska facing the most challenges when it comes to connecting to high-speed Internet. In fact, in areas with high concentration of poverty and Native American populations, and in remote and rural villages, any Internet access at all, including dial-up, can be a challenge.
In Alaska, the broadband speed in many areas doesn’t meet national benchmarks while the high cost of Internet provider services make the situation even more severe. In the state, over nine in ten schools — 93 percent — do not meet the 1,000 Kbps national benchmark that the US Federal Communications Commission has recently set for school Wi-Fi. About 22 percent of schools do not meet even the 100 Kbps goal, which is further proof of the divide between Alaska and other states.
The ConnectTak report says that four in 10 schools are unable to offer 100 Kbpbs per student. As a whole, Alaska’s K-12 schools on average get 246 kbps per student, the report says. The researchers conclude:
“There are substantial gaps in the availability, adoption, and use of broadband and broadband-enabled technology in Alaska.”
In poor areas with greater than 30 percent poverty, Internet connectivity is limited to 43 Kbps. About 25 years ago, phone-line Internet connections in the US were 56 Kbps 74Million says.
The report reveals that the Alaska School Broadband Assistance Grant that aimed at helping schools reach the national benchmarks was a short-term solution and now the schools receiving help run the risk of losing any progress made. The Grant program run from February to June 2015 to help districts with less than 10 Mbps of Broadband speed apply for funding. In early 2015, $5 million was awarded to 27 school districts, the report says, which helped the schools pay for their Internet connectivity. Since the program hasn’t been renewed for 2016, these school districts are ‘at risk of backsliding,’ the report authors say.
The researchers say that if the School Broadband Assistance Grant program (School BAG) were long-term, then up to 64 percent of the state’s K-12 schools could reach the 1000 Kbps benchmark.
Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, said, according to the Alaska Dispatch News:
“Alaska is the hardest state in the country to connect to high-speed Internet due to its terrain, topography, and lack of infrastructure.”
All schools but two in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) met and surpassed the 100 Kbps benchmark, Pegge Erkeneff, the school district spokesperson, said. According to the report:
“Connect Alaska observed that Kenai Peninsula Borough has well-managed the great variety and diverse needs across this school district – students are well connected to broadband technology and getting a wealth of information from online tools daily. “
The district has seen substantial progress in Internet connectivity speed over the last five years. In 2010, Internet speed was at 32 Mb/second. Today, the average school Wi-fi rate is at 400 Mb/second. The progress is partly the result of the federal E-rate subsidy program which funded Internet connectivity needs of the district with $10 million through the last 17 years, ADN reports.
Alaska, along with 12 other states, does not have an Internet connectivity funding program. According to 74Million.org, in November the US Department of Agriculture pledged to focus on connecting remote and rural areas of Alaska to the Internet following a presidential visit in the state two months earlier.