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Universal Broadband Required to Improve and Equalize Opportunity in Vermont

July 23, 2018

The following is testimony I provided to a meeting convened by the Green Mountain Economic Development Commission that involved ISP providers, Governor Scott, and government officials from the State of Vermont who are interested in workforce preparation.  

In December 2013, the Vermont State Board of Education unanimously approved the Education Quality Standards, an updated set of rules designed to ensure that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality…”.

Four years later, in November 2017, the State Board unanimously adopted the International Standards for Technology Education (ISTE), which outline “…what all Vermont students should know and be able to do with respect to information technology.”Upon their adoption, State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said: “These standards also strengthen Vermont’s commitment to citizenship in the digital age at a time when civic engagement at all levels are key to strengthening our democracy.”

As one who has consulted in school districts in eastern Vermont ranging from Canaan to Halifax, I applaud the high-minded ideals set forth in both the Education Quality Standards and the ISTE standards. Based on my experience working with rural districts in Essex, Orleans, Orange, and Windham Counties, achieving those goals will require a marked increase in the availability of high speed internet in schools. Moreover, knowing the financial challenges placed on Vermont school districts, such an increase can only happen with a targeted increase in technology funding from sources outside of district budgets. The FCC’s bandwidth goals for 2017-18 is to have at least I Mbps per student in every school in our country. This speed is required to ensure a media rich environment for students in the schools, an environment that will enable them to do browsing, on-line testing, video collaboration, and streaming of remote instruction like Khan Academy.

In order for technology to fulfill its ultimate promise, these FCC goals for schoolsshould also apply to allresidents. If we expect students to complete homework that involves internet research, to receive asynchronous remote instruction at home, or to work on projects with classmates when they are outside of school, they need to have high speed internet access at home. If we expect teachers to be capable of using all of the technology tools available today outside of school, they need to have high speed internet at home. Most importantly, if we expect that “…all Vermont children will be afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality” we cannot continue to limit high speed internet access to many of our students. As a map prepared by Broadbandnow illustrates (see https://broadbandnow.com/Vermont), a substantial minority of residents in Vermont do not have access to the kind of internet services needed in order to experience the “media rich” environment the FCC hopes to achieve in this current school year. These marked disparities in high speed internet services available to students will widen the achievement gap between students who reside in communities with broadband and those students residing in communities where no high speed internet is available.

Today, I expect that you will hear direct testimony on how disparities in internet access affect students, teachers, and parents across Vermont. I also expect that you will hear ideas from ISP providers on the steps the State can take to help accelerate the provision of high speed internet access across the state. For the sake of rural and low-income students across the state, I urge you to take the actions recommended in this session.

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