Education and Broadband Access

“[Broadband is]… just as important as having electricity and water. It’s really become a core component of the whole business of delivering instruction and also managing school districts.” …This according to TIES Technology Integration Development and Outreach Facilitator, Mary Mehsikomer, in a recent St. Cloud Times article regarding the importance of broadband connectivity in education. The article goes on to explain that parents may have thought that a dial-up connection was enough, but now dial-up connections are not robust enough to handle the type of information that students are required to access online. But, it’s not just at home; some rural schools and colleges are facing the same problem as households. Some district budgets simply cannot afford high-speed connectivity. Due to this difficulty, some schools have now joined forces via the Minnesota Educational Technology Network. The network strives to improve access to broadband in rural areas. It allows for the cooperative purchase of internet access and video services to rural schools and libraries. This network of rural schools and libraries effectively has greater buying power than each institution on its own. A few institutions in the network have even begun the cooperative sharing of servers or IT departments.

In addition to seeking out cooperative arrangements, schools and libraries may also be interested in securing grants to support their technology needs and updates. Locally, a $4,000 grant was received by the Foley School District from the Blandin Foundation’s MIRC Program for the installation of additional wireless units in the schools for school and community use.

At the college-level, there may be even greater need for high-speed connectivity. With the boom in online courses and fully online programs, high-speed connectivity for college students is essential. Vi Bergquist, Chief Information Officer at St. Cloud Community and Technical College, says “Internet access has gotten so vitally important for college students. It’s almost a must.” Bergquist goes on to explain that there’s often an assumption (especially at larger metropolitan campuses) that all students will have a device and access to high-speed connectivity — but that’s a dangerous assumption. Bergquist explains that there are still students that don’t have this access, and students that simply don’t understand the technical requirements for taking online courses.

With demand will ultimately come greater access to connectivity and high-speed providers. James Koenig, Director of IT Services at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, explained that already “…there’s enough [provider] competition in the area that we can buy from a local provider”. This is certainly a move in the right direction!