High-speed internet access. For most of us, we never think twice about it - it's just there. However, not every citizen in our state is lucky enough to get internet wherever they want, whenever they want, as fast as they want it. Arizona has diverse terrain that includes mountains, deserts, and widespread distances between consolidated populations (over 84 percent of the population lives in 10 percent of the state). These factors create obstacles for service providers to install the necessary infrastructure for broadband connectivity. The resulting lack of access to high-speed internet in rural areas makes it difficult for teachers to access online tools for classroom instruction, conduct professional development, complete certification, and utilize student dashboards with real-time instructional data that informs instructional decisions. It also makes it challenging for students to access online courses, perform online research, take online assessments, and utilize other free educational services created by the state.
Governor Ducey believes students should have access to the internet connectivity they need, and the Arizona Governor’s Office of Education is proud to announce that Arizona has been selected to participate in the K-12 Broadband and Digital Learning Policy Academy (Broadband Policy Academy), a project administered by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) in partnership with EducationSuperHighway (ESH). Through the Broadband Policy Academy, the NGA Center and ESH provide consultation support to assist states in the development of a comprehensive vision, strategy, and implementation plan to expand K-12 internet access, affordability, and student digital learning opportunities in schools across their state. The Broadband Policy Academy will allow the Arizona Governor’s Office of Education, the Arizona Department of Education, and rural community partners to begin closing the internet access gap in our state through collaboration and shared effort.
Across the nation, 20 million more students have been connected to high-speed broadband in the last two years, yet more than 21 million students still do not have adequate access to broadband to take full advantage of digital learning. In Arizona, 63 percent of school districts meet the FCC target standards for internet access, but only six percent of school districts currently meet the FCC affordability standard of $3 per Mbps (megabits per second, a measure of data transfer speed, where a megabit is equal to one million bits) for internet access (Education Superhighway). And to meet 2018 demand, the typical school district or charter school will need to grow bandwidth at least threefold and ensure ubiquitous Wi-Fi to support digital learning needs.
With the help of the Broadband Policy Academy, Arizona will create the strategic vision to install a hybrid of both fiber and wireless infrastructure throughout our rural communities so every citizen can utilize high-speed, scalable, reliable, and cost-effective internet access. Specifically, Arizona is striving to deliver 100 kbps per student to every school by leveraging the five Regional Education Centers throughout the state that will serve as distribution hubs, providing the schools with improved access to bandwidth.
The Arizona Department of Education has been instrumental in securing E-Rate funds for underserved school districts in the state. Implemented by the FCC since 1997, the E-rate program provides discounted telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries. In 2008, the state received only 33 percent of requested E-Rate funds. Today, Arizona receives approximately 77 percent, allowing technology to reach areas never seen before in this state. With the Broadband Policy Academy’s support, we are aiming to reach 100 percent of our schools.
Arizona’s Broadband Policy Academy leadership team includes the following individuals critical to forming the State’s policies in statute, technology, and education:
- Dawn Wallace: Governor’s Office of Education, Director & Education Policy Advisor
- Shari Zara: Arizona Department of Education, Deputy Superintendent
- Mark T. Masterson: Arizona Department of Education, Chief Information Officer
- Milan Eaton: Arizona Department of Education, Arizona E-Rate Controller
- Barry Williams: Apache County, Superintendent of Public Schools
- Stan Goligoski: Yavapai County Support Services, Executive Director
Improving broadband access for Arizona’s schools is the right thing to do for our students; it will have a strong economic impact for all of rural Arizona, lowering the cost of internet access for citizens, governments, nonprofits, and businesses around the state. We are excited to begin this partnership and bring learning at the speed of now to Arizona schools and communities that need it most.