Study: $3.2 billion in E-rate funds needed to achieve ConnectED’s broadband-classroom goals

Report says in-classroom cabling is the most-uncertain line item in the cost to connect classrooms to high-speed broadband.

May 29th, 2014

A report co-produced by two organizations focused on technology in educational environments says that in order to reach the Obama Administration’s goal of connecting 99 percent of America’s K-12 students to high-speed broadband, the FCC’s E-rate program will have to contribute $3.2 billion over the next four years. The 99-percent initiative has been dubbed ConnectED.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) collaborated with EducationSuperhighway to produce the document titled “Analysis of Costs to Upgrade and Maintain Robust Local Area networks for all K-12 Public Schools.” The analysis is based on research carried out by CoSN. When describing the methodology used, the organization explained, “We consulted with over 50 district chief technology officers, as well as equipment vendors, and networking experts to help define and validate the list of equipment required for a robust wired and wireless network, considering the needs of a per-classroom, per-school, and per-district basis. Our objective was to identify the typical equipment required to provide the foundation of high-speed, ubiquitous connectivity to every school …”

The model includes a few cost estimates that could be of particular interest to professionals in the cabling contracting business. Specifically, it estimates that each school will require on average 1.2 wireless access points per classroom, at a cost of $520 per classroom. It also estimates that each classroom will require 6 wired drops (defined as two ports per drop) at a cost of $215 per classroom. That $215-per-classroom price tag carries with it a footnote that reads: “The cost of wiring is the least precise element of the model as it is primarily driven by labor costs, which can vary significantly based on each district’s work rules, contracting policies, and geographic location as well as the generally unpredictable nature of modifying wiring in an existing school. Because these costs represent a significant amount of the overall modeled cost, this is likely the largest source of uncertainty in the current model.” The report’s cost model identifies $15 of that per-classroom cost as equipment and the other $200 as labor.

The report also quantifies how many—at least percentage-wise—schools will need upgrades in order to support broadband connectivity. It says, “ … Very few schools are starting from scratch. In the 57 percent of schools [needing upgrades], many of the required components, especially the expensive but long-lasting building wiring, are already in place. For example, the CoSN survey found that 74 percent of schools already have fiber as their in-building backbone network, 80 percent of schools have wiring to their classrooms capable of supporting Gigabit broadband connections, and roughly 80 percent of schools have some form of WiFi in 90 percent of their classrooms.”

You can download the cost analysis as a PDF from EducationSuperhighway here.

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