Finally, We Can Get Every Student and School Online – For Cheap

Cross Posted from Dan Kurz’s Jersey Globe Blog at http://kurzglobe.blogspot.com/…

Many decades have had their “Moonshots.” They’re The Big Ideas. Typically, they’re supremely-expensive, societally-challenging, disruptive projects that go down in history as  lasting achievements. In the 1930’s it was the New Deal. In the 40’s, it was victory in World War II. In the 1950’s it was the Interstate Highway System. In the 60’s it was, well, the Moonshot (and Civil Rights).

These “Moonshot” projects are costly, but necessary. They’re transformative, and frequently democratic in nature. They are national quests that are underwritten by the Federal government because either the private sector is not equipped to – or willing to – deliver. Yes, America is a capitalist nation, no doubt. We prize private ownership and initiative, but there are things that even the market cannot do. Not on a big level anyway.

The challenge of our age, the “Moonshot,” if you please, is national, affordable, quality connectivity. Everywhere, 24/7. Call it what you will – a national, low or no cost Wi-Fi system, Municipal Internet, whatever.

Internet access is not a civil right, not yet anyway, but a good education is. And I really doubt that you’d be able to find any educator or parent who would not observe that there is no way any student can attain a quality education in 2014 without ready, constant, available broadband access. It’s a no brainer. The entire world is online and competing furiously on an international basis. My own students are well aware that their future competitors are not only in nearby schools but in places like Shanghai and Singapore as well. As a nation, we’re long overdue in bringing free, fast Internet into our public schools. This goal has long been part of our “Moonshot.”

If you asked any person on the street (or me as recently as two hours ago) how much it would cost to bring fast, wired and wireless (Wi-Fi) internet to every school in the nation, a lot of figures would come up. But the bottom line is, everyone – myself included – would tell you the cost would be prohibitive. Hundreds of billions of dollars, at least – maybe more. Most would probably think that it’s worthy goal, perhaps, but really, just not realistic in the near future. It seems like a huge, progressive dream, and something that, in these troubling economic times, might have to be done either incrementally or put on the back burner for more prosperous days.

Then I read an article – a blog post in this week’s Washington Post. According to the FCC and two highly respected organizations in the Ed-Tech world, a price tag has been revealed. For this estimation, this “ballpark figure,” every school in the United States could be hooked up to broadband access, wired and wireless. And we’re not talking about the kind of access you get at home – we’re talking big, thick pipes dedicated to massive amounts of uploading and downloading via fiber optic connections. To do this, it would cost Congress about $4 billion.

When I read the estimation, I gasped. It can’t be that inexpensive. To bring wireless access to every public school in America…that’s just huge. Every school means every school, from the mega-high schools of busy New York City to the rural hamlets of Tennessee…sea to shining sea…etc.  

The implications of such a plan would be revolutionary to say the least. And for this price tag – really the amount that the Federal government probably spends on toilet paper yearly – it’s worth it. We have spent more than a trillion dollars in Iraq since 2003. A trillion dollars! To kill people and break things in a faraway land! And what have we got for our trillion dollars? Iraq is falling apart, Al Qaida’s still on the loose, our allies aren’t any more secure and we have tens of thousands of disabled vets to care for. Why don’t we take just a fraction of such an expenditure and invest it in our children and our communities?

We can do this. We must do this. We can still do great things, but now, apparently, we can achieve greatness with technologies partially bought at places like Radio Shack and The Home Depot. The private sector won’t do it; it’s had a decade to step up to the challenge of bringing affordable and widespread web access to our schools. Instead, our tech companies are focused on what all companies focus on: profits, mergers and acquisitions. That doesn’t make them bad, but it does make them incapable of acting on this level for the public interest.

We can do this. Who’s with me?

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