Report shows Internet connectivity gap in Alaska

KENAI —Alaska is lagging behind other states in providing what federal regulators have determined to be proper access to broadband in K-12 classrooms.

The nonprofit Education SuperHighway released a report Thursday showing how many schools meet the 100 kilobits-per-second standard for digital learning nationwide, The Peninsula Clarion reported. The “State of the State” report includes data from 6,700 school districts and 25 million students.

“Alaska is the hardest state in the country to connect to high-speed Internet due to its terrain, topography, and lack of infrastructure,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of Education SuperHighway.

While many of Alaska’s schools have struggled to increase connectivity for students, nearly all of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s roughly 8,000 students have the required access to Internet.

“With the exception of two sites, Sterling Elementary and Paul Banks Elementary, KPBSD schools exceed 100kbps per student connecting to the KPBSD wide-area network,” said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.

Overall bandwidth has increased from 32 megabits-per-second in 2010 to 400 megabits-per-second in 2015, she said. The increase can be attributed to the federal E-rate subsidy program, which has provided the district $10 million since 1998.

Administrators in rural school districts are paying more on average to get students connected to the Internet, Marwell said. They are also more likely to lack access to the necessary infrastructure and technologies for bandwidth.

The report calls on Gov. Bill Walker to make digital learning a priority. Alaska is one of 13 states that do not have funding programs to specifically address boosting Internet access for educational purposes, Marwell said.

“Digital learning has been embraced by students and teachers across the country, but it can’t happen without first connecting all of our students to high-speed Internet,” Marwell said. “By working together to put a broadband foundation in place, we can ensure that every student, in every state has equal opportunity for a world-class education.”

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