Whitmer: Michigan's classroom connectivity gap closed

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that Michigan has closed a longstanding digital gap in K-12 classrooms, the results of a seven-year effort to bring high-speed internet to schools.

Whitmer joined Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of the non-profit EducationSuperHighway, on a conference call to discuss a new report showing that nearly all K-12 students in the United States now have access to high-speed Internet.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reads to students at Northeast Elementary School in Jackson in March.

As of Tuesday, 99% of America’s schools have a high-speed broadband connection capable of providing enough bandwidth to enable students and teachers to use technology in the classroom, according to EducationSuperHighway, which works with states and school districts to connect U.S. public school classrooms to high-speed internet. About 98% of Michigan's schools have such connectivity, Marwell said.

In Michigan:

• 2,360 schools have been upgraded to "scalable" infrastructure for fiber-optic connections and 20 schools remain. 

• 98% of Michigan’s school districts are meeting the 100 kilobits per second or kbps per student goal and 95.2% of students are meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum goal of 100 kbps per student. 

• The cost of school broadband in Michigan has decreased 89%, from $6 in 2015 to 65 cents this year.

• Schools in Michigan have used $90 million in federal WiFi funding to upgrade their WiFi and internal networks since 2015.

Whitmer said Michigan teachers are hard at work preparing students with 21st century skills for tomorrow's jobs.

"Ensuring high-speed internet access is in every school is critical to achieving the FCC's long-term goal of 1Mbps (megabytes per second) per student," the governor said. "That's why Michigan is focused on eliminating broadband deserts and making Internet access more affordable."

Marwell said Whitmer is among those leading the way and helping to set the digital learning standard in the country. The governor’s success is largely due to a collaborative effort with service providers and local school districts, Marwell said.

"By closing the digital divide in the classroom, we’re opening the door to new educational opportunities for millions of students across the nation," Marwell said. "Digital learning isn’t just a promise anymore — now, it’s a reality."

Marwell said the 2% of districts in Michigan that have not met the goal of closing the gap are spread across the state and include metropolitan and rural areas. They include Chippewa Valley, Kalamazoo and Warren Consolidated schools.

"What we are seeing is they have high-speed fiber and they have been stuck on a contract they cannot upgrade," Marwell said. "I would think all would get upgraded to that goal as well."