MIDDLESEX COUNTY — It was a project launched in 2014 to greatly improve Internet access across grades K-12 schools in New Jersey.
For the past six years, the “New Jersey Digital Readiness for Learning Assessment Project” (NJDRLAP) has been more successful than most could have expected. The 2021 procurement will be the biggest so far, helping up to 795 education institutions close the Digital Divide. Since project launch NJDRLAP has saved school districts an estimated $275 million in technology costs. That savings is equal to the cost of keeping hundreds of teachers in New Jersey classrooms each year.
The 2021 contract, a three-year deal, reduces the average monthly price per Mbps for Internet access by 52 percent. The average price for Internet access from the previous contract was $1.69. Before NJDRLAP, schools paid an average of $26.17 per Mbps for Internet access. In 2021, they will pay just 81 cents per Mbps.
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The 2021 program continues to offer high-speed Internet access to every school district in New Jersey, plus fiber connectivity to hundreds of schools statewide, at the further reduced cost. The program is administered by the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ), headquartered in Piscataway. Currently. There are seven vendors who are providing discounted Internet service through the program.
“This is one of the most successful cooperative purchasing initiatives in New Jersey; we couldn’t be more proud of the enormous participation in the program as well as the taxpayer money that has been saved,” said ESCNJ Schools Superintendent Mark Finkelstein. “The goal of this co-op is to make high-speed Internet access available to every student in New Jersey. I’m pleased to say we are well on our way toward achieving that goal.”
When introduced in 2014, the program had immediate success, with 137 school districts signing up in the first year for cheaper and faster broadband access. By the end of 2019, more than 45 percent of school districts in the state were enrolled, with more signing up on a regular basis.
“Also, we are pleased that many public charter schools, non-public schools and educational non-profits have also taken advantage of the program,” Finkelstein said. “We have developed a program that reaches every county in the state, representing schools big and small, rural and urban, wealthy and poor, from pre-kindergarten to high school. It has become a model co-op, and a world-class example of what we can accomplish together.”
Before the NJDRLAP program began, more than 17 percent of participating schools were struggling with copper lines to connect to the Internet. Today, almost all districts use fiber connections.
Patrick Moran, the ESCNJ business administrator, explained the enormous savings is realized by bundling the demand for advanced telecom services.
“The ESCNJ co-op helps local telecom providers make more productive investments in the New Jersey economy, which benefits businesses, hospitals and individual citizens, as well as schools and government organizations,” Moran said.
He noted the NJDRLAP co-op in on track to facilitate more than $100 million in telecom contracts through 2024 for the shared benefit of the co-op’s public sector members, approved service providers and New Jersey citizens.
Speeds are faster than ever before. Compared to the 2018 contract, which set the previous record for statewide k-12 Internet speeds, average bandwidth is up 47 percent from 1,177 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 1,729 Mbps. That’s almost two Gigabits per second per district.
“Besides faster Internet access, co-op members are using the NJDRLAP contract to connect multiple campus locations and government buildings together for a super-fast information exchange,” Moran said.
“These co-op circuits are meeting the `need-for-speed’ for schools and municipalities statewide,” he said. “More than 300 educational and government institutions use the NJDRLAP co-op. The contract has helped thousands of citizens get better government services and benefited more than 600,000 students by delivering world-class Internet access to classrooms across New Jersey.”
“If these schools had to pay pre-NJDRLAP prices for their current levels of service, they would have needed to make very difficult decisions: buy less Internet, cut spending elsewhere or raise taxes,” Finkelstein added. “Fortunately, the ESCNJ offers a better alternative: buy more for less with the NJDRLAP co-op.”
The co-op continues to expand its services, with the ESCNJ and its consultant, Dellicker Strategies, adding cable modems, fiber-to-the-home services and other affordable means of Internet access.
Purchasing from the NJDRLAP co-op is easy for schools and municipalities. Visit ESCNJ’s new members’ website (www.escnj.us/members) and select “Telecommunications” from the drop-down menu for the NJDRLAP program.