B.P Brewer Calls For Better Broadband Access In NYC Public Schools From Harlem To Hollis

February 14, 2019

Even as New York City’s technology sector grows, creating thousands of new tech jobs, a survey of Manhattan public schools from Harlem to Hollis by Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer shows that city students are lagging behind in the most basic tech currency: broadband wifi access.

Surveying a sample of multi-school “campuses” across the borough, the Borough President’s staff and interns conducted measurements of wifi upload and download speeds at three points during the school day: 20 minutes before classes start, 20 minutes after classes start, and 20 minutes after each school’s third period starts.

The survey data suggests that wide gaps exist between the average internet speeds of schools on co-located campuses…

  • Only 8 schools out of the 78 sampled had wifi speeds high enough to take advantage of modern cloud-based technologies such as Google Apps.
  • Eighteen of the 28 campuses had a difference of at least 5 Mbps, or megabits per second, between schools with the fastest and the slowest download speeds. (Five campuses had a download speed difference greater than 28 Mbps.)
  • Only 10 of the 78 campuses sampled offered roughly equal download speeds among schools– differences under 5 Mbps. Still, those speeds varied widely among campuses—Campus “I” had an average peak speed of 4.81 Mbps, and Campus “BB” had an average peak of 49.6 Mbps.

“Broadband is essential to the modern world; therefore, it has to be a part of the modern classroom,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “These results highlight huge disparities in what teachers and students need in this day and age. The DOE needs to put one person in charge of getting schools up to speed—a ‘Broadband Czar’, if you will—to get this problem solved. We all know tech jobs are the future, and if we can’t provide a basic ‘faucet’ of internet bandwidth, we’re really perpetuating a digital divide.”

Brewer’s report calls on the city to…

  1. Ensure that all schools have a bandwidth of 2 Gbps per 1,000 users so that all students and staff have access to speeds that allow for full utilization of web-based technologies. New York City should move beyond providing the minimum allocations for schools and become a leader in providing the highest speeds and most-equitable internet access in the country.
  2. Incorporate goals for NYC schools into the Mayor’s OneNYC Vision 1 Goal for BroadbandThe OneNYC plan recognizes internet access is a “prerequisite for full participation in the city’s economic and civic life.” The OneNYC plan should create goals for upgrading school wireless networks so that the digital divide is reduced where more than 1 million New Yorkers go everyday—schools.
  3. Allow schools to purchase Google Chromebooks and Apple iPads with capital funds. Schools need to be able to take advantage of the latest, most innovative tools for web-based, digital learning, but right now city capital funds can’t be used to buy tablets and Chromebooks and expense funds are always stretched too thin.
  4. Provide comprehensive training for teachers and administrators. Staff must have enhanced training to provide the latest digital tools to their students and incorporate web-based learning platforms into their pedagogy.

The complete report can be viewed online here.

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