Educators Discuss Bringing Broadband to Rural Schools

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PANAMA CITY BEACH-- Educators from rural districts all over the state are in Panama City Beach this week for a series of seminars and forums on the latest challenges facing their profession.

The FloridaLearns Foundation addressed one of them Wednesday afternoon, during the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium's annual Leadership Conference.

Few rural districts have access to broadband internet service.

But that's becoming a necessity as Florida schools move closer to online learning and testing.

PAEC is working with the state's two other rural educational consortia, finding ways to bridge the digital gap between their school districts and urban areas.

The three consortia say that 40 percent of the Florida district are rural, and they have the least amount of funding for technology.

"We're limited by what is provided either by the phone or cable companies. Once you get off the I-10 corridor and once you get away from military base, we're limited by what's offered to our schools," Washington County Schools Superintendent Joe Taylor said.

"I think that the only way that the rural markets in this state or in any state are going to succeed is if we stick together. That's the only way to do it," Liz Zucco, with Connection Education, said.

Broadband costs about $20,000 per mile.

Taylor estimate the cost to be hundreds of millions of dollars to provide rural districts with the technology they need for the state's changing online standards.