July 8, 2015
By Karl Soderlund 1
The potential for digital learning to transform our schools, engage students with individualized education and close the achievement gap is vast. School districts from cities and suburbs to rural communities recognize the opportunities that digital learning presents, but many have been stymied by the pent-up demand for the connectivity that is required for the successful use of online learning tools in the classroom.
Fortunately, that’s all about to change. In late May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the first wave of E-Rate funding for the Funding Year 2015. Wave 1 includes more than $153 million in commitments for all service types and discount levels. The FCC also released FY2014 Wave 54 funding in May for approved Priority 1 requests for telecommunications services and Internet access at all discount levels.
The FCC has allocated $3.9 billion for the E-Rate program in 2015—the first reset of the cap in more than a decade. This increased funding and overall program modernization will allow K-12 schools and libraries to begin to keep pace with the demands of digital learning. For the first time, managed Wi-Fi services are eligible for funding, while funding for standard services such as voicemail, email and web hosting has been eliminated.
The U.S. government’s goal is to expand Wi-Fi and broadband connectivity to more than 10 million students in 2015. But there’s significant ground to be gained. According to the FCC, 63 percent of public schools—more than 40 million students—don’t have enough broadband connections to their buildings to take advantage of digital learning today. And 45 percent of school districts lack sufficient Wi-Fi to move to a one-to-one learning program.
The Opportunity in the Gap
As a solution provider, you have an unprecedented opportunity to help K-12 schools and libraries close the connectivity gap and advance their digital learning initiatives.
When districts the magnitude of the Los Angeles Unified School District roll out one-to-one computing programs, it makes headline news. But, there are golden opportunities at small and midsize school districts as well. The connectivity gap is particularly deep in smaller districts in both rural and urban areas. The FY2015 E-rate program is designed to provide all schools and libraries with equitable access to funding for Wi-Fi.
The boost in E-rate funding will fuel educational technology sales for the 2015/2016 school year and beyond. As a solution provider, your expertise can deliver tremendous value to school districts as you work with them to design, build, implement and support 21st Century learning infrastructures. From a pragmatic point of view, there often is less focus on the smaller districts—but there is still healthy spending there and, due to pent-up E-rate demand, smaller districts can represent a big win for solution providers.
Additionally, you can tap into incremental sales opportunities that extend well beyond the products and services eligible for E-Rate discounts. For example, schools need to ensure secure access to their networks and protect their digital learning and administrative applications, which drives sales of security solutions. Students and teachers need tablets and netbooks and a whole new world of educational software and services, driving device and software sales. Also, online schools and distance learning are becoming more commonplace.
Digital learning puts a world of knowledge and expertise at students’ fingertips—and keeps kids engaged as they develop the skills they need for college and careers today. But digital learning also means that success is predicated on a strong, reliable technology foundation. And building that foundation is your sweet spot of opportunity.
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