It was clear from the early days of TLA that before technology could transform education, schools needed to have sufficient internet connectivity. In 2013, more than 60% of K-12 public schools lacked the high-speed, high-capacity internet access they needed. Acting as an intermediary, TLA was the lead investor to the start-up, non-profit group EducationSuperHighway. Since TLA’s investment, EducationSuperHighway has grown into a major force for infrastructure improvement across the nation. In addition to this seed capital, TLA provided ongoing strategic guidance and special-project funding to support the organization in its mission to upgrade the internet access in every public school classroom in America so that every student has the opportunity to take advantage of the promise of digital learning.
Provision of Critical Early Funding to Allow for Rapid Scale
EducationSuperHighway CEO Evan Marwell says TLA’s early investment in 2012 and 2013 of $500,000 allowed the organization to quickly scale its efforts, hire key employees, and remain flexible to respond to the quickly shifting national focus on school connectivity. This initial funding helped accelerate distribution of EducationSuperHighway’s national SchoolSpeedTest, through which EducationSuperHighway gathered internet speed data from more than 800,000 tests in 30 states. Results revealed close to 63% of schools in the U.S. needed an upgrade. Early investment also built fundraising momentum for EducationSuperHighway, leading to significant investments totaling more than $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Startup:Education among others.
Early Data Spurred Launch of ConnectED - A Federal Initiative
The data collected from EducationSuperHighway’s SchoolSpeedTest helped lay the foundation for President Obama’s 2013 federal ConnectED initiative, an initiative TLA joined to help push progress and coordinate follow-on investment. Based on early engagement and energy, the Obama administration increased the federal commitment by setting the goal of connecting 99% of students to high-speed broadband by 2018. During Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, he recognized some of the nation's top businesses for stepping up to support ConnectED with several large, philanthropic gifts that EducationSuperHighway helped to secure and TLA helped to coordinate.
Achieving E-Rate Reform
ConnectED tasked the FCC to modernize the E-rate program. EducationSuperHighway worked to build widespread support for the reform, including a letter campaign that included hundreds of CEOs, education technology leaders, and politicians from every party and every level of government attesting to the crucial importance of connecting our classrooms.
In response to the FCC's call, EducationSuperHighway released two landmark analyses in 2014: Connecting America's Students: Opportunities for Action and the LAN/Wi-Fi ConnectED Cost Model. This work culminated in a historic vote in July, 2014 by the FCC to modernize the E-rate program, phasing out legacy services, providing $5 billion over five years to upgrade the wireless infrastructure, increasing data transparency, and simplifying the E-rate application process. The momentum continued into 2015 when the FCC announced a modernization order which raised the total yearly funding to schools and libraries for internet connectivity to $3.9 billion, helping to ensure that all of America’s schools and libraries would be connected to high-speed broadband within the next five years.
Lowering Broadband Costs via State Partnerships
EducationSuperHighway spearheaded an unprecedented nationwide collection of cost data and delivered a first-of-its-kind national bandwidth pricing report, as well as a tailored pricing analyses that increased transparency about cost and overpayment. State governments began taking notice and several, including Virginia and Arkansas, partnered with EducationSuperHighway to launch the first intensive state pricing projects to drive down costs.
Follow On Support to Build District Resources
In early 2015, TLA funded and helped to coordinate EducationSuperHighway’s Network Essentials for Superintendents, an actionable guide for superintendents and district leaders looking to upgrade their school district’s network to support digital learning.This was one of several “self-serve” tools EducationSuperHighway has created to help districts with the upgrade process. In August 2015, EducationSuperHighway released the Fiber Toolkit , which helps school leaders determine the right type of fiber connection and provides actionable guidance on funding, procurement, and implementation.
Starting in late 2015 and into 2016, EducationSuperHighway announced several key state initiatives working to ensure all students have access to adequate broadband connectivity. In late 2015 and 2016, Montana, New Mexico and Texas partnered with EducationSuperHighway to provide every K-12 classroom with high-speed internet connections. In November 2015, EducationSuperHighway received an additional $20 million from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan to support school district adoption of the high-speed broadband infrastructure needed to support customized digital learning programs. EducationSuperHighway continues to build resources and release reports which push towards it mission of connecting all students with high-speed internet access.
According to EducationSuperHighway’s 2016 State of the States report, tremendous progress has been made since TLA’s original investments. Nearly 75% of all students in America are now connected to high-speed broadband, up from less than 30% in 2013. This translates into an additional 30 million students connected and 42 governors across the country have committed to completing the job of connecting the 11.6 million students who still don’t have adequate connectivity.
EducationSuperHighway continues to make remarkable progress in its mission to bring internet connectivity to our nation’s schools, with continued strategic engagement with TLA as an ecosystem partner. “Beyond the early financial support, TLA has been a tremendously valuable partner for strategy, connections, and for amplifying our work to broaden our impact,” said Evan Marwell.