Schools, Libraries Say They Need Faster Broadband

A just-released Federal Communications Commission study found that while 95% of schools and libraries that receive e-rate funding have some terrestrial broadband connection to at least one facility (2% have satellite and 3% still use dial-up), and while over half of those (55%) have it at speeds greater than 3 Mbps, 80% say it is not enough to meet their current needs.

Ten percent said they had speeds greater than 100 mbps.

The e-rate program provides discounted broadband service to schools and libraries through the Universal Service Fund.

According to the Harris Interactive survey commissioned by the FCC, slow connection speed was cited by 55% as the reason their connectivity did not meet their needs, while 39% said cost of service was also a barrier, and 27% said cost of installation was a barrier.

Over half said they planned to increase their use of e-books in the next few years, while 45% said they would start using or expand their use of handheld devices.

Two-thirds said they provide some wireless connectivity for staff, students or patrons.

For schools, e-mail is the most used application (98% regularly use it) and the most essential (69%), while for libraries online reference materials are the most used (86% of staff or patrons regularly use) and the most essential (62%).

The FCC has already taken steps to boost speeds. The e-rate program, which provides more than $2.25 billion in support annually, was "upgraded" last September in a vote to, among other things, promote the use of handheld devices and e-books and to boost speeds by making so-called "dark fiber"--unused but already-laid infrastructure--eligible for that funding.

The 2010 phone/online study was conducted Feb. 25-April 5 among 1,060 e-rate recipients (about 5% of the total 22,819 recipients as of 2008). The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9% at a 95% confidence level.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.