The Public Service Commission held a Broadband Planning Symposium last week to discuss the future of broadband expansion.The importance of libraries and school districts in providing access to internet services was highlighted throughout the symposium. During a presentation on focus groups held by the UW Extension on broadband access, a key observation highlighted by Extension staff was that libraries in rural and urban Wisconsin appear to be undergoing a fundamental transformation in how they do business—they are becoming default broadband hubs and online training centers for their individual communities. Libraries and school districts play a large role in providing broadband access, but many are experiencing funding cuts which make it harder to maintain or expand current services. Extension staff said adequate support for the state's public library system will be important as Wisconsin works to increase broadband access.
Several area educators spoke about the importance of broadband for the future of education.
John Pederson of WiscNet gave an excellent overview of the current level of connectivity in schools and the importance of getting schools to one gigabyte. He said that currently 40% of school districts hit the maximum capacity on WiscNet every day and that in 2010 the FCC found that 80% of school districts report having inadequate broadband connections.
Educators on the panel highlighted the importance of providing digital content to meet the needs of their students, but noted the challenges of providing one-to-one devices when students cannot access the internet at home. Melissa Emler of the Shullsburg School District and Don Childs of the Antigo School District discussed the challenges of providing high-speed internet in schools. Emler said that her biggest challenge as an administrator is the cost of infrastructure. Childs also highlighted the difficulty of getting broadband internet into rural schools where there are often no providers within reach of the school.
John Tanner of the Oregon School District said that every year his district doubles the speed of their internet—and they are still not able to meet the needs of their students. He also discussed the importance of technology for student retention, saying that students are most likely to drop out when they don’t feel like the coursework is relevant to them. Tanner said that increased use of technology in the classroom is important since it will allow students to customize their education.
The panel consisted of the following educators:
Broadband Technology: Shaping the Future of Education - Panel overview by Kurt Kiefer, DPI
Panel 1 moderated by John Pederson, Wiscnet
Greg Barniskis, South Central Library Service
Don Childs, Antigo School District
Diane Doersch, Green Bay Area Public Schools
Melissa Emler, Shullsburg School District
Jamie Lane, ERVING
Michelle Nickels, CESA 9
Renee Nolan, Fond du Lac School District
Jon Tanner, Oregon School District
You can watch the education panel here and video from the rest of the conference, including keynote addresses by Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and UW System President Ray Cross, is available here.
On a related note, the Public Service Commission announced the recipients of this year's broadband expansion grants, which were created in the 2013-15 state budget. You can view the full list of recipients here.