ESH, a nonprofit from California, has raised millions of dollars and plans to invest that money in bringing high-speed Internet to children all over the country.
Dozens of schools spread across Virginia currently have limited access to broadband, meaning testing and other learning tools are not available to all.
"Our data shows that there are about 50 schools that basically have the same kind of broadband is if you were using a dial-up connection, from back in the 90s,” said Evan Marwell, CEO and founder of EducationSuperHighway.
Governor McAuliffe and Marwell said Virginia schools will move past those problems.
"Technology can really level the playing field. It can give every student regardless of where they live or who their parents are, access to an incredible education,” said Marwell.
ESH selected Virginia for the pilot program. The company will figure out ways to cut costs, incentivize competition in smaller communities, and increase transparency.
"And no matter where you are as a student in the Commonwealth, you have access to broadband that provides you with instructional support,” said Steven Staples, state superintendent of public instruction.
Aside from enhancing learning opportunities, the governor says the ambitions extend to other aspects of society.
"This is what we need to grow and diversify our economy,” said McAuliffe.
"Broadband's not just important as the governor said to schools; it's important for our hospitals, our other public officials, and it's important for every business and home in this state. And so one of the great things is that when you bring more broadband to a school, you're bringing it into the area where the people live,” said Marwell.
Virginia school divisions pay more than the national average for Internet access. According to ESH - affordability has been their number one hurdle.
Office of Governor Terry McAuliffe Press Release
Governor Terry McAuliffe announced today that Virginia has been selected to participate in a pilot project to help school divisions lower the cost of high-speed Internet access and increase digital learning opportunities for students.
EducationSuperHighway (ESH) — a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to improving Internet access in schools — selected Virginia because of the commonwealth’s leadership in digital learning and because of data suggesting that Virginia schools are paying more than the national average for Internet access and network connectivity.
According to ESH, average monthly megabits-per-second costs for Virginia school divisions are $26 for Internet access and $7 for network connectivity, compared with respective national averages of $22 and $3. ESH data also indicate that the percentage of Virginia schools with less-than-ideal access and bandwidth exceeds the national average.
“Ensuring that all Virginia communities have equal and affordable access to broadband technology is a critical component in developing a 21stCentury Virginia economy,” said Governor McAuliffe. "I am grateful that EducationSuperHighway has selected Virginia for this important project which will use transparency to drive down broadband costs and provide greater opportunities for innovative learning in classrooms across the Commonwealth.”
“Virginia is leading the nation in the effort to lower school broadband costs across the state," said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway. "We are thrilled to partner with Governor McAuliffe to ensure that all of Virginia's students have access to high-speed Internet for 21st-century learning."
School divisions are using an ESH online portal to report detailed information by the end of August on Internet access and broadband pricing. After analyzing the data, ESH will produce a comprehensive report in early 2015 on access and pricing for all participating school divisions.
“School divisions will have the ability to compare and evaluate prices across the state and determine whether they are getting their money’s worth in access and bandwidth,” Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson said.
Working with the secretary of technology, Secretary of Education Anne Holton and the Virginia Department of Education, ESH will identify factors and practices driving up costs for school divisions and provide technical assistance to school divisions on cutting costs by promoting transparency, encouraging competition, and identifying new service options.
“Every student in Virginia deserves access to high-quality digital content,” Secretary Holton said. “Our strategy for closing achievement gaps must include a concerted effort at both the state and local levels to make sure that slow connection speeds and inadequate networks don’t bar the way.”
EducationSuperHighway says the broadband pricing project will include two states, with the second state being named later this summer.
Last month, ESH and the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking called on the Federal Communications Commission to increase federal E-rate funding for schools and libraries by $800 million annually to support much-needed improvements to wireless networks. E-rate provides subsidies to school systems and libraries through fees paid by telecommunications companies.