Schools and libraries are more and more focused on delivering Wi-Fi connections to students, school staff, and library patrons. In recent weeks, there has been a focus on providing off-campus resources via the newly announced Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). Bridging the Homework Gap remains a significant challenge, and this summer’s ECF filing window will bring much needed support to connect communities.
However, the need for adequate off-campus broadband connectivity does not diminish on-campus broadband connectivity. In fact, the growing number of devices in the hands of school and library patrons is expected to significantly increase the demand for Wi-Fi on school and library campuses. The use of online content, blended learning environments, and video conferencing has skyrocketed over the past year. No one expects students and teachers to suddenly stop using laptop computers and give up communicating electronically. The range of available online educational resources and activities has expanded dramatically, and, along with it, the expectations of our students, school staff and library patrons. The result: more Wi-Fi will be needed on-campus.
This trend did not begin in 2021, but it is very likely to continue into 2022 and beyond. The total cost of E-rate supported on-campus broadband in schools and libraries reached $1.85 billion in funding year 2021. This is like the last peak in funding year 2015, but with a profound difference. Requests in funding year 2015 represented pent-up demand because there had been no funding for on-campus broadband for the two previous years (2013 and 2014). On the other hand, demand in funding year 2021 came on the heels of robust demand in funding years 2019 and 2020. Indeed, demand for on-campus broadband connectivity has been increasing every year since 2018.
The mantra anywhere, anytime learning is more accurate than ever – and for schools and libraries, it means going the extra mile to keep students, staff and library patrons connected wherever they may be. Fortunately, the E-rate program exists to support them on-campus, and the new Emergency Connectivity Fund exists to support them off-campus.