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Education

Schools need a broadband “czar” to ensure better public school wifi; new report from my office shows wide variance across 70 campuses

Even as New York City’s technology sector grows (Amazon HQ2 notwithstanding), a survey of Manhattan public schools by my office shows that city students are lagging behind in the most basic tech currency: broadband wifi access.

My staff and interns surveyed a sample of multi-school “campuses” across the borough and conducted measurements of wifi upload and download speeds at three points during the school day: 20 minutes before classes start, 20 minutes after classes start, and 20 minutes after each school’s third period starts.

Our results suggest that wide gaps exist between the average internet speeds of schools on co-located campuses…

  • Only 8 schools out of the 78 sampled had wifi speeds high enough to take advantage of modern cloud-based technologies such as Google Apps.
  • Eighteen of the 78 campuses had a difference of at least 5 mbps, or megabits per second, between schools with the fastest and the slowest download speeds. (Five campuses had a download speed difference greater than 28 mbps.)
  • Only 10 of the 78 campuses sampled offered roughly equal download speeds among schools– differences under 5 mbps. Still, those speeds varied widely among campuses—Campus “I” had an average peak speed of 4.81 mbps, and Campus “BB” had an average peak of 49.6 mbps.

The results should be alarming to any public school parent–broadband is essential to the modern world; so it has to be a part of the modern classroom. These results highlight huge disparities in what teachers and students need in this day and age.

The DOE needs to put one person in charge of getting schools up to speed—a ‘Broadband Czar’, if you will—to get this problem solved. We all know tech jobs are the future, and if we can’t provide a basic ‘faucet’ of internet bandwidth, we’re really perpetuating a digital divide.

We are calling on the city to…

Ensure that all schools have bandwidth of 2 gbps per 1,000 users so that all students and staff have access to speeds that allow for full utilization of web-based technologies. New York City should move beyond providing the minimum allocations for schools and become a leader in providing the highest speeds and most-equitable internet access in the country.

Incorporate goals for NYC schools into the Mayor’s OneNYC Vision 1 Goal for Broadband. The OneNYC plan recognizes internet access is a “prerequisite for full participation in the city’s economic and civic life.” The OneNYC plan should create goals for upgrading school wireless networks so that the digital divide is reduced where more than 1 million New Yorkers go everyday—schools.

Allow schools to purchase Google Chromebooks and Apple iPads with capital funds. Schools need to be able to take advantage of the latest, most innovative tools for web-based, digital learning, but right now city capital funds can’t be used to buy tablets and Chromebooks and expense funds are always stretched too thin.

Provide comprehensive training for teachers and administrators. Staff must have enhanced training to provide the latest digital tools to their students and incorporate web-based learning platforms into their pedagogy.

The complete report can be viewed online here.

Categories: Education, Technology