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Our research suggests that a number of programs would have a significant impact on the total costs of connecting to the NII. If all schools coordinate purchasing at the state level, cost savings will exceed $2 billion. Colleges and universities often have the resources to provide technical support to K-12 schools. If a nationwide program were instituted, potential savings would be $800 million to $1.8 billion. If schools were given free Internet connectivity, the reduction in total annual costs for school Internet connections would be between $150 million and $630 million.

Finally, as the costs of networking schools are better understood, a new question arises: how will these costs be financed? Many states have programs to fund networking in schools. The federal government has a role, although it must become more flexible and coordinated. However, as Vice President Al Gore has continued to state, the NII will be built by the private sector. A number of states have initiated cooperative ventures between businesses and schools. An expansion of these programs may well be the key for successfully connecting K-12 schools to the NII.


On January 11, 1994, Vice President Al Gore challenged the nation to "connect every classroom by the year 2000" to the national information infrastracture (NII). In testimony before Congress in May 1994, Secretary of Education Richard Riley said, "We may have to go a step further and provide our schools with free usage of the telecommunications lines that will connect school children and young people" to the NII. In an address at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said that "if the Administration's challenge is met by everyone, education in this country will be reinvented, forever and for better." Universal connection to the NII, it is presumed, will facilitate educational reform within schools. However, to date, relatively little information has been available about the costs for connecting schools to the information infrastracture. This paper presents models for evaluating the total cost of full NII connectivity for schools through an engineering cost study of equipment, services, software, and training needs.

Cost Models of K-12 Networking

Five models for connecting schools to the NII are presented in the next section in order of increasing cost and power to describe the path that many schools may follow. A school will likely begin its connection through the low-cost dial-up option described in model one. As the school builds expertise and develops a need for greater capability, it will upgrade to a higher level of connectivity. It is not until the school acquires telecommunications infrastracture similar to model four that it is able to take advantage of many of the educational services and applications provided on the emerging NII. Model five presents the costs for putting a PC on the desktop of every student, with a high-speed connection to the Internet. Although this setup is not necessary for access to many of the coming NII services, it presents a model of systemic educational reform with information and networking technology.

These models are representations of the network technology used in schools. A level of complexity and detail is omitted from these models, but the simplicity is helpful because the models encompass broad cross sections of network and school configurations. The models provide a clearer view of the costs and choices for networking K-12 schools.

There are numerous ways to define a school network. The models presented below follow the Internet networking model, in which schools have digital data connections that transmit and receive bits of information. The models exclude both analog video point-to-point networks and voice networks including PBX, centrex, and voice-mail systems. Audio and video functions are possible in digital format over the Internet data network. However, many schools will require video and voice networks in addition to the data networks. The costs of these systems are important to consider but are not modeled in this paper.

It should be noted that although voice and video networks have been separated out from data networks in this paper, schools should not consider these three types of networks to be wholly distinct. Some schools have integrated their voice and video networks with the school data network. The sharing of resources among the multiple networks can be effective in providing significant cost savings. At a basic level, it must be understood

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