The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

WiFi in U.S. schools estimated cost: $3.2 billion to meet Obama’s goal

(Correction: Earlier version had incorrect total)

President Obama’s vision of ensuring that 99 percent of American K-12 schools have broadband and WIFI by 2018 is going to be mighty expensive.

The Federal Communications Commission received an estimate Wednesday of how much money it will take: $800 million a year for four years for a total $3.2 billion.  The estimate came from  the Consortium for School Networking and the EducationSuperHighway, which together did an analysis of the additional E-rate funds necessary to build the networks to achieve Obama’s goal, first announced in 2013.  

CoSN is a professional association for school system technology leaders; EducationSuperHighway is a nonprofit organization backed by the foundations of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg with the mission of  providing all K-12 public schools with high-capacity Internet access so they can take advantage of the promise of digital learning.

In June 2013, Obama announced his ConnectED vision and said the FCC should pay for the initiative with its E-Rate program, which is funded through a surcharge on telephone bills.

The new cost analysis follows a 2013 survey by CoSN that revealed a huge gap with U.S. district education networks. Keith Krueger, the chief executive of CoSN, was quoted in a statement as saying:

Our survey revealed an unfortunate, but very real picture, with 57 percent of districts reporting their wireless networks incapable of handling a 1:1 deployment today and 40 percent of classrooms with no Wi-Fi at all. However, until now the education community did not have the data to measure the investment required to solve this problem. Now we do. The cost model designed by EducationSuperHighway and CoSN shows what it will take to get all our schools up to speed experiencing an enriched learning environment within the President’s proposed timeframe.

The new cost analysis says in part:

[B]y combining our estimates of the equipment schools need for robust LAN, Wi-Fi, and core WAN networks, the cost of that equipment, and the current readiness of school networks, the LAN / Wi-Fi ConnectED Cost Model estimates the baseline funding that will be required to achieve the ConnectED goal of ubiquitous wireless networks supporting 1:1 digital learning. Specifically, the model projects that schools will require approximately $2.9 billion of E-rate subsidies over the next four years to upgrade their LAN, WAN, and Wi-Fi networks. Assuming that libraries add an additional 10% to the upgrade cost, we arrive at a total E-rate subsidy requirement of approximately $3.2 billion or $800 million per year for the next four years.

You can read the full analysis here.