I’ve always taken it as a given that broadband is important for education. I know as I travel around the country and meet with folks in rural counties that education is at the top of the list of reasons why rural areas want better broadband. I’ve heard countless stories of the major efforts rural families undertake to help their kids keep up with schoolwork.
I recently saw a study that looks at the impact of lack of broadband on education. The study comes from the ICUF (Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida) – a group of 30 universities in the state. This study correlates lack of broadband with lower high school graduation rates, lower percentages of college degrees and lower per capita income.
The study says that 700,000 Floridians don’t have enough broadband to take part in distance learning. Distance learning is used for numerous college degree programs and the ICUF institutions have over 600 distance learning degree programs.
But distance learning is now also a big part of K-12 education and students are expected to be able to use distance learning tools for homework or to make up for work missed during absences. High schools also use distance learning to offer a wider variety of classes to students on subjects where it would otherwise be hard to justify hiring a teacher. My daughter finished high school in Florida last year and she took a distance learning math class when she was unable to otherwise fit it into her schedule.
The study concludes that students need broadband speeds at something similar to the FCC definition of broadband of 25 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up in order to successfully use distance learning. I would also add that distance learning requires low latency in order to maintain a live connection – this is not something that can be done, for example, with a satellite broadband connection.
The study identified 13 counties in the state that have inadequate broadband, ranging from Madison County where 41% of residents can’t get broadband to Dixie County where 99% of households don’t have broadband access. These counties have significantly fewer citizens with college degrees than the 19 counties that are at the top of the list in terms of broadband access.
But the 13 county statistic is misleading because every county has pockets of students without good broadband. As soon as you get outside city limits almost anywhere the availability of broadband quickly diminishes. A few years ago I looked at my own county, Charlotte County, and I found several pockets of homes without broadband even inside suburban neighborhoods.
The state of Florida has a goal to have 55% of its population with a college degree or advanced education certificate by 2025. They think this is needed to keep the state competitive in the global economy. The areas without broadband are far below that target with college graduation rates between 12% and 27%. A few of the urban counties in the state already have as many as 54% of residents with a college degree or certificate.
This study doesn’t reach any conclusions on how to close the rural broadband gap (something a whole lot of us are struggling with). But they see this study as a cry to develop policies and funding to close the gap. The conclusion of the study is that areas without broadband will fall further behind than they are today unless we can find broadband solutions.