New Research Finds Extending School, Library Networks Key to Connecting Households August 17, 2022
For Immediate Release
Building broadband “To-and-Through” anchor institutions is often a cost-effective way to erase the “homework gap”
Washington, D.C. (August 17, 2022) - Today, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) released a new report and case studies demonstrating the effectiveness of connecting low-income students and households to the internet by extending school, library, and other “anchor institution” networks into the community.
The economic study, conducted by Dr. Raul Katz of Telecom Advisory Services, finds that building broadband networks “to-and-through” anchor institutions is often the most cost-effective and financially sustainable option to connect students in rural and underserved areas, challenging a narrative that claims this approach is too costly. The case studies show that both large and small school districts, including Council Bluffs (IA) and Fresno (CA), are using a variety of wireless technologies and partnerships to permanently close the homework gap.
During the pandemic, an estimated 15 to 17 million students were cut off from remote learning due to a lack of home connectivity. In response, SHLB, OTI and other advocates petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow off-campus use of services funded by E-Rate and permit local schools and libraries to use these funds to directly connect student households to affordable broadband. While Congress recognized this opportunity by creating the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in the spring of 2021, these funds were largely limited to the purchase of monthly internet subscriptions, such as mobile hotspots. Some argued that this was a more cost-effective use of ECF funding than the “To-and-Through” approach championed by SHLB and OTI.
Today’s report and accompanying case studies of 12 school and community networks offer a key revelation for policymakers and advocates as we look to make the most of last year’s historic $60 billion investment in closing the digital divide: Building broadband to-and-through anchor institutions is often the most financially sustainable and effective option for connecting students and unserved households. The case studies describe how changes in wireless technology allow anchor institutions to become hubs for extending affordable internet service to the surrounding community, often by partnering with the private sector.
The following can be attributed to John Windhausen Jr., Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition:
“Schools and libraries have been at the forefront of promoting digital equity for years – long before COVID revealed the extent of our nation’s digital divide. Every community has unique connectivity needs, which is why anchor institutions and other local leaders can be instrumental in bringing internet to everyone. We hope that today’s research will encourage anchors to explore the full range of options for solving the digital divide, and will show policymakers the value of looking to anchors to create more pathways for extending school and library networks to the home, especially in unserved and underserved markets.”
The following can be attributed to Michael Calabrese, Director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“The pandemic turned a pre-existing homework gap into a remote learning crisis. Many school districts and communities responded by leveraging access to free public spectrum to extend networks directly to low-income students lacking reliable broadband at home. This new research demonstrates that these school and community networks are often the most cost-effective and financially sustainable way to close the homework gap for good.”
SHLB and OTI will soon release a toolkit created by Dr. Katz to help schools and community institutions consider their best options for connecting households directly to the internet.
About the SHLB Coalition:
The SHLB Coalition is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public interest organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, D.C. and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States. To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.
About the Open Technology Institute:
The Open Technology Institute (OTI) works at the intersection of technology and policy to ensure that every community has equitable access to digital technology and its benefits. We promote universal access to communications technologies that are both open and secure, using a multidisciplinary approach that brings together advocates, researchers, organizers, and innovators. To learn more, please visit us online at www.newamerica.org/oti and on Twitter @OTI.