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 consumption. 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 program. 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 down. 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 74. 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 transition. 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 applications. 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.]