Legislature(2019 - 2020)BUTROVICH 205

03/19/2019 09:00 AM Senate EDUCATION

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                  SB  74-INTERNET FOR SCHOOLS                                                                               
9:00:49 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  STEVENS announced  the consideration  of SB  74. He  stated                                                              
his  intent to  introduce  the bill,  take  public testimony,  and                                                              
hold the bill in committee.                                                                                                     
9:01:32 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  LYMAN HOFFMAN,  Bill Sponsor,  Alaska State  Legislature,                                                              
Juneau, Alaska,  said SB 74 is  an important piece  of legislation                                                              
relating  to  Internet for  schools.  A  similar bill  passed  the                                                              
Senate last  year but  did not pass  the other  body. SB  74 would                                                              
increase the  minimum Internet  speed for  every school  in Alaska                                                              
from 10 megabits  a second (Mbps)  to 25 Mbps using  the Broadband                                                              
Assistance Grant  (BAG) program, which leverages  state investment                                                              
by  utilizing the  federal E-rate  Program. For  every dollar  the                                                              
state puts  into the program, the  federal government match  is up                                                              
to  a 9-to-1  ratio.  The bill  would benefit  168  schools in  30                                                              
school districts  throughout Alaska. Schools would be  able to use                                                              
more  technology  in  more  classrooms   simultaneously  and  have                                                              
better  access  to  more  information,   further  utilizing  video                                                              
technology and reducing caching, among other benefits.                                                                          
CHAIR STEVENS  asked what  the impact  will be  for schools  to go                                                              
from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps.                                                                                                        
SENATOR HOFFMAN  replied  many schools have  Internet speeds  that                                                              
are  lower  than  10 megabits.  The  increased  speed  will  allow                                                              
students to  access more  information to do  homework. At  25 Mbps                                                              
students  can interact with  other school  districts. It  broadens                                                              
the horizons of  people living in far-flung places.  He noted that                                                              
even  in Anchorage  some  schools  still have  speeds  of just  10                                                              
megabits.  The bill  is  not just  for  rural  Alaska. All  school                                                              
districts will  benefit. He said  the BAG program is  an excellent                                                              
opportunity that  the legislature  should have taken  advantage of                                                              
last year. It  is hard to find  programs today that offer  up to a                                                              
9-to-1 match, he said.                                                                                                          
SENATOR BIRCH  mentioned downloading  movies and telemedicine  and                                                              
commented that there  are different demands for  speed and volume.                                                              
He  asked  if  any  sort  of audit  has  been  done  to  show  the                                                              
SENATOR  HOFFMAN   responded  that  it  will  vary   among  school                                                              
districts.  He opined  that schools  will  cherish their  Internet                                                              
time  and  each   school  district  will  provide   oversight  and                                                              
guidelines.  In many  instances, problems  associated with  volume                                                              
exists today without additional speed.                                                                                          
9:06:30 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR COSTELLO  said that  as a classroom  teacher, she  saw the                                                              
value   of   Internet   accessibility.  She   and   her   students                                                              
participated  in  a program  with  students  from Russia  and  the                                                              
lower 48. They were  talking to an author whose  book the students                                                              
had read. She  applauded his efforts to improve  the opportunities                                                              
for educators  to provide  21st century  experiences to  students.                                                              
She asked why  states are setting  the level if this is  a federal                                                              
SENATOR  HOFFMAN suggested  she  ask the  Department of  Education                                                              
and Early Development (DEED).                                                                                                   
CHAIR STEVENS  said several  people from  DEED would be  speaking.                                                              
He noted that  packets have information about the  bandwidth speed                                                              
for schools.  He noted that most  schools have around 10  Mbps and                                                              
surprisingly, some  schools in even  the largest  communities have                                                              
limited bandwidth.                                                                                                              
9:08:34 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR HUGHES  said asked what  the recommended speed  is because                                                              
her  recollection was  that  two-way video  conferencing  requires                                                              
speeds  higher  than  25 Mbps.  SB  74  is  a step  in  the  right                                                              
direction, but there is farther to go.                                                                                          
SENATOR  HOFFMAN replied  the  national goal  is  100 megabits  so                                                              
this could be viewed  as a small step. He suggested  the committee                                                              
ask other  testifiers  about the  increase; the  cost would  be 10                                                              
percent  of whatever  the  additional  cost may  be.  He said  one                                                              
concept  is  to  reach  25  Mbps  and  increase  every  two  years                                                              
thereafter according  to some scale.  Instead of having  to review                                                              
the legislation  every few years,  the legislature could  see that                                                              
schools  were moving  toward 100  Mbps. Depending  on the  state's                                                              
ability  to  match the  funds,  each  legislature could  make  the                                                              
decision. He suggested the committee may consider that.                                                                         
SENATOR  HUGHES asked  if there  is any concern  that the  federal                                                              
money may be capped or that the federal funds are limited.                                                                      
SENATOR HOFFMAN  said the committee  should ask other  testifiers,                                                              
but the  general answer is yes  because the federal  government is                                                              
in deficit  spending, but in Alaska  education is a  high priority                                                              
of elected officials.                                                                                                           
SENATOR  HUGHES   offered  her  understanding  that   the  state's                                                              
congressional  delegation  and the  federal  administration  views                                                              
broadband the  same way that money  for roads, bridges,  and ports                                                              
has traditionally  been viewed.  The information  highway  is just                                                              
as important  and especially for  the rural communities.  She said                                                              
this  committee  has  talked  about   the  national  challenge  of                                                              
recruiting  and  retaining teachers,  and  that the  challenge  is                                                              
intensified  in Alaska,  particularly in  rural communities.  Good                                                              
teachers are needed  on site locally but being able  to beam great                                                              
teachers  from   around  the  state   into  schools  would   be  a                                                              
tremendous  opportunity for  students. Students  would be  able to                                                              
access courses,  materials, and  teachers that would  otherwise be                                                              
inaccessible.  She opined  that this  is the  right thing  for the                                                              
state to do.                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STEVENS  commented that this  is probably the only  way that                                                              
students will have  the opportunity to take  college-level courses                                                              
while they are in high school.                                                                                                  
9:13:39 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  BEGICH  asked  whether  the cost  is  mostly  related  to                                                              
moving data through  the systems or to upgrades. He  said if it is                                                              
the latter,  it might  make more  sense to move  to a  higher Mbps                                                              
immediately, if that can be done without incurring greater cost.                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN  said the cost is  probably a combination.  Six or                                                              
seven  years ago,  there  was a  push for  more  broadband in  the                                                              
Yukon-Kuskokwim  Delta. The vast  majority of the  broadband width                                                              
was  taken up  by the  regional hospital  and some  by the  school                                                              
district. The  investment in infrastructure  on a  graduated scale                                                              
from  25 Mbps up  to 100  Mbps would  show providers  that this  a                                                              
priority and they  may be encouraged to invest  in different parts                                                              
of Alaska.                                                                                                                      
SENATOR HUGHES asked  if there is oversight on  what the providers                                                              
charge for  Internet service. She  noted that the  Iditarod School                                                              
District is paying  almost $1.5 million for Internet  annually and                                                              
that  seems  high.   She  also  pointed  out  that   schools  with                                                              
increased Internet could provide  opportunities to the community.                                                               
SENATOR  HOFFMAN replied  that he  doesn't know  whether there  is                                                              
oversight  on the  rates.  He noted  that  in the  Yukon-Kuskokwim                                                              
Delta area, there  were negotiations with the  health corporations                                                              
and providers  on the charges before  the investment was  made. He                                                              
suggested  the committee  ask  other  testifiers,  but the  9-to-1                                                              
match  could  create the  perception  that  rates would  be  going                                                              
SENATOR  HUGHES  said she'd  like  to  know because  whether  it's                                                              
health  care  or Internet,  the  legislature  wants to  make  sure                                                              
school districts are getting a good deal.                                                                                       
CHAIR STEVENS  asked Ms.  Boario to present  the sectional  for SB
9:18:31 AM                                                                                                                    
MARIDON  BOARIO,  Staff,  Senator   Lyman  Hoffman,  Alaska  State                                                              
Legislature,  Juneau, Alaska,  said  there is  one  change to  the                                                              
statute. That is  to increase the download speed  from 10 megabits                                                              
per second to a minimum of 25 megabits per second.                                                                              
9:19:16 AM                                                                                                                    
PATIENCE FREDERICKSEN,  Division Director, Library,  Archives, and                                                              
Museums,  Department of  Education and  Early Development  (DEED),                                                              
Juneau, Alaska, said  the division has operated  the program since                                                              
FY2015 when  the original  bill was passed.  They create  and send                                                              
out the  grant application in the  spring for school  districts to                                                              
complete. The  grant awards  are cut  in August. School  districts                                                              
spend the  funds during  the year  and the  grant final  report is                                                              
done in  April. In  August the division  asks school  districts to                                                              
refund any balance.  She clarified that the E-rate  funding is not                                                              
funded by  the federal government.  It is funded by  the universal                                                              
service  fee  on  all  phones,  whether  it is  a  cell  phone  or                                                              
landline. The  phone or Internet  provider transmits the  money to                                                              
the   Universal   Service   Administrative   [Company].   Schools,                                                              
libraries,  and  health  centers  apply  for  the  E-rate  to  the                                                              
Universal Service  Administrative [Company]. The money  never goes                                                              
through  the  federal  books.  It is  a  well-funded  program.  In                                                              
FY2018, the  total Internet charges  for schools and  libraries in                                                              
Alaska were  about $148  million. E-rate paid  86 percent  of that                                                              
with schools  and libraries  picking up  the rest, supported  with                                                              
programs  like the  School BAG  program and  the online  libraries                                                              
program that provides a subsidy to libraries.                                                                                   
MS. FREDERICKSEN  said that  funding is not  much of an  issue. It                                                              
is such a  popular program that  other entities are trying  to get                                                              
into it.  Tribal libraries  are  working to be  considered  for E-                                                              
rate. The  money is not endless,  but 15 cents per  telephone line                                                              
per month  is a small price  to pay for  the service. The  way the                                                              
program functions  is that schools that  needed help to  get to 10                                                              
Mbps have  not been  asked to pay  anything beyond their  November                                                              
2014  benchmark. The  spreadsheet  the division  sends to  schools                                                              
asks for  the total Internet bill,  the amount paid by  E-rate (80                                                              
or 90 percent based  on the poverty rate in the  school), and what                                                              
the school  paid in  November 2014. The  School BAG  program makes                                                              
up  the rest.  On average  in Alaska,  schools get  86 percent  of                                                              
their  Internet  bills  paid  by  E-rate.  The  state  and  school                                                              
districts pay the remaining 14 percent.                                                                                         
MS. FREDERICKSEN  said her only  concern with the bill  as written                                                              
is that schools  want more than 10 Mbps and the  phrase "a minimum                                                              
of" seems to  imply that schools  can argue about the  25 cap. She                                                              
said  the  division  would  also  ask for  an  effective  date  of                                                              
September 2019.  Schools apply  in the spring  for E-rate  and the                                                              
vendors  in the  area look  at the filings  to see  what they  can                                                              
bid. Then  the schools  choose a  vendor. The managed  competition                                                              
is one way  that E-rate tries to  keep costs of the  program down.                                                              
Because that  window will close  at the end  of the month,  if the                                                              
division tries  to institute  a 25  Mbps school broadband  program                                                              
too soon,  schools will  have to redo  their applications.  If the                                                              
effective   date  is  September   2019,  it   will  be   a  smooth                                                              
SENATOR  BIRCH said  this is a  remarkable and  positive move.  He                                                              
asked if  the speed  and volume  would be limited  to 25  Mbps, if                                                              
that  is what  is provided,  regardless  of how  many users  there                                                              
might be at one time.                                                                                                           
MS. FREDERICKSEN said  her understanding is that if  a school gets                                                              
25 Mbps and one  classroom does video conferencing,  all the other                                                              
classrooms   will   experience    slower   speeds.   Things   like                                                              
videoconferencing  or streaming  movies will  impact the speed  in                                                              
the rest of the building on that circuit.                                                                                       
CHAIR STEVENS asked her to address  the substantial fiscal note.                                                                
9:28:56 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  FREDERICKSEN  said the  fiscal  note makes  some  assumptions                                                              
based on the existing  School BAG program. In FY  2019, 80 schools                                                              
got support for  10 Mbps and she used the average  cost of $16,594                                                              
in  the fiscal  note.  The  E-rate  coordinator accessed  the  FCC                                                              
[Federal  Communications Commission]  database last  week to  find                                                              
that 245 schools  have less than 25 Mbps, so 245  times $16,594 is                                                              
the third number.  Then there is a calculation  for the proportion                                                              
to  get  245  schools  to 10  Mbps.  That  is  what  the  division                                                              
anticipates  the School BAG  need would  be, which  is in  the $10                                                              
million range.  The governor's  FY 2020  request is going  forward                                                              
with  $1.487.5 for  the School  BAG. That  would be  added to  the                                                              
$8,710,000 for  the current year. Then  next year it would  all be                                                              
for School BAG at 25 Mbps.                                                                                                      
SENATOR  HUGHES asked  if  earlier she  said  that Alaska  schools                                                              
spend $148 million a year on Internet.                                                                                          
MS. FREDERICKSEN  said $148 million is for schools  and libraries.                                                              
The E-rate  coordinator assists  both entities  with their  E-rate                                                              
SENATOR COSTELLO  noted that  an article  in the packet  indicates                                                              
that  educators   are  saying  that  this  will   improve  reading                                                              
results. She  asked if  there is any  data showing a  side-by-side                                                              
comparison  of  fourth  grade  reading  proficiency  and  Internet                                                              
speed and access to Internet.                                                                                                   
MS.  FREDERICKSEN replied  that  the division  doesn't gather  any                                                              
data  on  the schools.  They  rely  on  the statisticians  at  the                                                              
Department of  Education and  Early Development. She  acknowledged                                                              
that  a  basic assumption  is  that  Internet  is a  utility  that                                                              
schools need.                                                                                                                   
CHAIR STEVENS said that is an important question.                                                                               
SENATOR COSTELLO  said that since the department  does collect the                                                              
information  the committee  could  do a  comparison.  The hope  is                                                              
that  this  will  improve  how  education  is  delivered  and  the                                                              
results of the investment.                                                                                                      
9:33:00 AM                                                                                                                    
LISA SKILES PARADY,  Ph.D., Executive Director, Alaska  Council of                                                              
School Administrators,  Juneau, Alaska, said that  SB 74 increases                                                              
the minimum  broadband for  schools and  provides funding  through                                                              
the  School  BAG program.  She  referenced  the concern  with  the                                                              
language  "a minimum  of" and  offered her  understanding that  it                                                              
allows  a minimum  to be  spent  for growth  as price  compression                                                              
happens.  She said  we  don't want  to cap  districts;  this is  a                                                              
minimum. She  was involved with  starting School BAG in  2015 when                                                              
she was working  with the North Slope Borough  School District. At                                                              
that time,  villages had  1 or  2 megs  and this  was seen  as the                                                              
next step  needed to grow connectivity  in Alaska. While  it's not                                                              
financially  feasible   to  connect   the  entire  state,   SB  74                                                              
continues   to   incrementally   grow  connectivity   for   school                                                              
districts. It is an equity issue.                                                                                               
DR.  PARADY said  the  joint position  statement  and the  members                                                              
place a high  priority on increasing bandwidth  in outlying areas.                                                              
Alaska students  need the transformative  power of  technology and                                                              
equitable  access  to online  resources.  Teachers  and  students,                                                              
some of whom live  in some of the most remote  areas of the world,                                                              
require  access  to  modern  technology   in  order  to  transform                                                              
learning,  create efficiencies,  provide  online health  services,                                                              
and keep  pace with  peers globally.  She said  ACSA supports  the                                                              
leverage  of federal  funding of  up to 9-to-1  to provide  Alaska                                                              
students and  teachers fair access  to the digital world.  In 2017                                                              
over  59,000  students  across   Alaska  still  lacked  access  to                                                              
bandwidth  needed to support  the integration  of technology  into                                                              
classroom instruction.  SB 74  addresses that statistic.  Reliable                                                              
access  to  the  Internet  is  a   critical  component  of  modern                                                              
learning. Right now,  many students cannot access  the Internet at                                                              
the minimum  FCC goal.  ACSA wants  all schools,  no matter  their                                                              
geography,  to   have  equitable  education   opportunities.  That                                                              
requires connectivity.                                                                                                          
9:37:18 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STEVENS opened public testimony.                                                                                          
9:37:27 AM                                                                                                                    
NORM  WOOTEN, Executive  Director,  Association  of Alaska  School                                                              
Boards,  Juneau, Alaska,  supported SB  74. He  said that  when he                                                              
was in  school, the number one  tool for delivering  education was                                                              
a  mimeograph machine.  When  he  served on  the  school board  in                                                              
Kodiak, the superintendent  said a copying machine  was the number                                                              
one  tool for  delivering education  to  students. Now  it is  the                                                              
Internet, which  has opened so  many fields and  opportunities. He                                                              
said  this is  a baby  step, but  it is  a huge  step. It  affects                                                              
rural  and urban  school districts.  It touches  every student  in                                                              
the state of Alaska.                                                                                                            
CHAIR STEVENS  said that  at another  time he  would like  to hear                                                              
more about  the issue of equity  throughout the system  and how SB
74 would help.                                                                                                                  
MR. WOOTEN replied that he would be prepared.                                                                                   
9:39:32 AM                                                                                                                    
MIKE  HANLEY,  Superintendent,   Chugach  School  District  (CSD),                                                              
Anchorage,  Alaska,   said  he   had  concrete  examples   of  how                                                              
increased  Internet  speed  would  help.  He  explained  that  the                                                              
Chugach School  District just  finished its  bid for Internet  and                                                              
because of  some infrastructure  additions in Whittier,  they were                                                              
able to  increase speeds in  the Whittier  school from 10  Mbps to                                                              
50  Mbps for  the  same  price. That  has  allowed  the school  to                                                              
implement classes  that were unavailable  previously because  of a                                                              
lack  of bandwidth.  The  school also  has  some connections  with                                                              
Prince  William  Sound  College  and is  looking  at  adding  dual                                                              
credit  opportunities. He  said  strong educators  are  core to  a                                                              
strong  education  system  and  the  district  has  been  pursuing                                                              
professional  development   for  its  educators.  They   now  have                                                              
opportunities to  take courses to increase their  abilities, which                                                              
will  have  positive  impacts  on  the  school.  In  Whittier  the                                                              
increased  bandwidth  allowed  teachers   to  do  increased  video                                                              
conferencing  and board  members don't  have to  travel for  board                                                              
meetings.  He  acknowledged  that  it also  creates  disparity  of                                                              
opportunity  because the other  two schools  that are  further out                                                              
in Prince William  Sound are capped at 10 Mbps.  He concluded that                                                              
he agrees with  the previous testimony that better  access to high                                                              
speed internet is a core part of education in the 21st century.                                                                 
9:42:02 AM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR BEGICH  asked what  the difference in  cost is  between 25                                                              
Mbps and  50 Mbps. He commented  that if the infrastructure  is in                                                              
place, the price may not be that different.                                                                                     
MR. HANLEY  answered  that in this  case, that  is correct.  After                                                              
providers got  the fiber optic cable  into Whitter, the  school is                                                              
paying less  for 50 Mbps than it  previously paid for  10 Mbps. He                                                              
clarified  that  the  school  does   not  have  control  over  the                                                              
infrastructure component,  but that  is what availability  to that                                                              
infrastructure meant to the school.                                                                                             
SENATOR  BEGICH highlighted  that  Nome, Kotzebue  and some  other                                                              
areas on  the north  coast also  have fiber  optic cable  and that                                                              
infrastructure  investment  pays huge  dividends.  He said  that's                                                              
something for the committee to keep in mind.                                                                                    
SENATOR  HUGHES asked  if the other  two schools  in the  district                                                              
are limited  to 10 Mbps because  of a lack of infrastructure  or a                                                              
shortage of money.                                                                                                              
MR.  HANLEY  replied those  schools  are  not connected  to  fiber                                                              
because  they  are on  islands  in  Prince William  Sound.  Speeds                                                              
could  be increased  through the  use of  satellite and  microwave                                                              
but  the cost  is  double to  go  from  10 Mbps  to  20 Mbps.  The                                                              
district  has  E-rate funding  that  provides  support  but it  is                                                              
still cost prohibitive.                                                                                                         
9:44:42 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR STEVENS  said the  committee is  under time constraints  and                                                              
he hopes  that those who  could not testify  today would do  so at                                                              
later date.                                                                                                                     
[CHAIR STEVENS held SB 74 in committee.]