LAO 2004-05 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2004

Education Technology

County Offices of Education Internet Access

We recommend the Legislature delete $21 million in funding provided to county offices of education for the high-speed Internet2 access, as the program has limited benefits to schools and school districts and the technology is still relatively expensive.

The 2004-05 Governor's Budget creates a new Internet access program providing $21 million in funding to county offices of education (COEs) to provide high-speed Internet access (commonly referred to as Internet2) to schools and school districts. According to the Office of the Secretary for Education, the Governor provides these funds to maintain the state's investment in the Digital California Project (DCP). To date, the administration has failed to provide (1) information about the effectiveness of DCP and (2) basic program information including the relationship of the new program to DCP, the funding distribution mechanism, and a budget.


What Is Internet2? Internet2 is a high-speed national network developed by a working group of 34 universities. It provides faster, more reliable Internet service and can transmit up to 45,000 times more information than the existing Internet technology. Figure 1 summarizes key features of Internet2. Currently, over 200 universities across the nation are connected to Internet2.

Figure 1

Features of Internet2



Significantly larger bandwidth than the standard Internet.

Information can be transferred 45,000 times faster than with standard Internet technology.

Ability to transmit video, complex images, and large amounts of data.

Fewer people on the network, which relieves congestion.

Private network, which reduces privacy concerns and eliminates advertising.

What Is DCP? The DCP is a multiyear project to develop, implement, and manage a statewide education network for K-12 schools. To date, the University of California has had oversight responsibility for DCP, but has contracted with the Corporation for Education Network Initia tives in California, a nonprofit corporation of California higher education Internet users, to develop and implement K-12 access points for Internet2.

The DCP has extended Internet2 to 56 of the 58 COEs. The DCP would eventually provide access to K-12 schools. The goals of DCP, as stated in the DCP plan, are shown in Figure 2. Meeting these goals could provide K-12 schools with benefits such as access to enhanced computer applications (such as interactive video and multimedia learning experiences), as well as access to higher education resources (such as online staff development programs and digital libraries). 

Figure 2

Goals of the Digital California Project

As Specified in the Digital California Project Plan



Provide a common communications infrastructure foundation for K-12 and higher education in California.

Facilitate access to content resources for teaching and learning in grades K-12.

Enable the state and educators to effectively address some of the challenges of learning in grades K-12 in the 21st century.

Develop an ongoing mechanism that will enable California education to sustain a cohesive K-12 and higher education statewide infrastructure.

For schools to realize these benefits, however, they must be able to connect to the Internet2 access points at the COEs. This is often called the "last mile" connection. The DCP is missing this critical piece since it does not include funding to connect Internet2 to districts, schools, or the classroom. Thus, in order to benefit from the proposed state expenditures for DCP, nearly all districts and schools would have to purchase computers, local area networks, and/or telecommunications services for the last mile. We estimate this cost would be significant. While the goals of DCP are noble, schools and districts have demonstrated few uses for the technology and high speed connectivity available through Internet2.

Governor's Proposal—High Cost and Low Benefit

We recommend the Legislature reject the Governor's Internet2 proposal for the following reasons:

Schools and Districts Would Need to Spend Funds to Connect to COEs. As mentioned above, the schools and districts would have to make sizable one-time and ongoing investments to connect the last mile to COEs. The administration has been unable to demonstrate that schools and districts are willing to make such investments at this time. Without the investment and the last mile connection, DCP has little value to schools and districts.

Few Software Products Require Such High-Speed Access. Part of the reason that few schools and school districts have invested in the infrastructure to connect to the counties is that there are few software prod ucts that require high-speed connectivity. Because so few schools and districts nationwide have access to high-speed connections, publishing and software design companies have not yet invested resources to develop products that take advantage of this technology. And, given that other states are in similar state budget situations as California, it is not likely that the demand for these products will increase soon.

Potential Uses of Internet2 Are Not Necessarily Cost Effective. As mentioned above, some of the potential uses include online professional development. While these are clearly viable applications, currently it is likely to be more cost effective to pay teacher travel costs to attend offsite professional development, or to pay a consultant to come to the district, than to pay the costs to connect to DCP.

Cost Likely to Fall in Future. Generally, state-of-the-art technology is relatively expensive. As usage of a specific technology increases, the price generally falls. Internet2 is likely to follow a similar trend. In the future, when applications for Internet2 are widely available and the cost to connect is cheaper, investing in faster connectivity may be a worthwhile investment. However, since that time may be many years in the future, we recommend the state delay such investments and redirect the $21 million to other budget priorities.

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