With new money and gear now committed, California might close student connectivity gap. If

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Home schooling

More money and in-kind donations are on the way from companies, foundations and the California Public Utilities Commission to close the divide between school kids who can get online and stay in school, and those who can’t. According to a press release from governor Gavin Newsom’s office, when previous announcements are added in, a total of $42 million has been pledged, along with 100,000 mobile network-enabled hotspots, 24,000 tablets and 13,000 Chromebooks.

Using the same guesstimated back-of-the-envelope and egregiously rounded math I used earlier this week, that will just about take care of the 200,000 or so Californian kids that the state education department says need a laptop or tablet and an Internet connection to do their school work.

If.

If my assumption of two students per household isn’t too high, and my guesstimates for average costs (see below) are in the ballpark.

If the money is used for the dreary purpose of buying equipment and service, and not diverted to backfill schools’ and non-profit organisations’ budgets or to fund the training programs that occupy them in normal times. Training is important, but when the ship is sinking the first priority is making sure everyone has a lifeboat. You can teach the kids celestial navigation and certify their parents as sailing masters once they’re safely aboard.

If similarly priced connectivity solutions can be found for rural school districts where baseline mobile broadband service is thin or non-existent.

If the restrictions on CPUC money don’t scupper the whole plan. Most of the money – $25 million – comes from the California Teleconnect Fund, which will only pick up half the cost of equipment and service, at most. In very round terms it’s in the ballpark, but that money will have to be creatively managed to make sure nothing is left on the table. Same with the $5 million earmarked from the California Advanced Services Fund – AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Frontier and friends did their best in Sacramento to make sure that piggy bank doesn’t benefit anyone other than themselves.

There might even be help coming from the federal government, which could solve any remaining funding problems or gaps. Efforts are underway in congress to loosen restrictions on the E-rate program managed by the Federal Communications Commission and to funnel more dollars into it. Those rules are likewise written and loved by the monopoly model incumbents that deploy battalions of lobbyists with bags of cash for friendly lawmakers.

Item                 Unit costTotal needed (@ 2 students/home)In kind donationsTo be purchasedCash needed
Mobile hotspot$8494,000100,0000$0
Mobile service$26094,000094,000$24,440,000
Laptop/tablet$275101,50037,00064,500$17,737,500
Total$42,177,500

But us two space cadets are doing this by eyeballing it, using Tennessee windage, an aerospace almanac, a Mickey Mouse watch, and an SR–50 Pop discarded years ago. RAH.