Good News can feel all too hard to come by lately. But this, at least, is something the US can be proud of: the digital divide in the country’s schools is rapidly closing. That’s according to the new “State of the States Report” released today by the non-profit EducationSuperHighway, which aims to bring broadband access to every classroom in the country by 2020. The group analyzed data collected by the Federal Communications Commission on school broadband access and found that in just the last two years, tremendous progress has been made in the way of connecting the country’s public schools.
Not only have 20 million students gained access to broadband in the classroom since 2013, but the percentage of school districts that now meet the FCC’s minimum requirements for access has spiked from just 30 percent of districts to 77 percent. But what is perhaps most impressive about the progress is how it’s leveled the playing field throughout the country—students at rural or poor schools are now just as likely to have this kind of access as students in urban areas or wealthy school districts.
“Frankly, I was taken aback,” says Evan Marwell, CEO and founder of EducationSuperHighway, of the results. “But then as I started to think about why it’s happening, it makes a lot more sense.” In 2014, the FCC modernized its so-called E-Rate program, which makes federal funding available for schools investing in technology, in order to ensure that the program would also include funding for broadband access. That means that between 2013 and 2015, federal money for broadband access in schools increased from $470 million to nearly $680 million. As part of that change, the FCC also set a future goal for schools that would require them to have 1 megabit per second of Internet access for every student. Meanwhile, the price of broadband in schools effectively decreased as providers grew their fiber networks and could offer schools more bandwidth for their money.