IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Calculating the Costs of School Internet Access

This blog is part of a guest series by the Cost Analysis in Practice (CAP) project team to discuss practical details regarding cost studies.

Internet access has become an indispensable element of many education and social programs. However, researchers conducting cost analyses of education programs often don’t capture these costs due to lack of publicly available information on what school districts pay for internet service. EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit organization, now collects information about the internet bandwidth and monthly internet costs for each school district in the United States. The information is published on the Connect K-12 website. While Connect K-12 provides a median cost per Mbps in schools nationwide, its applicability in cost analyses is limited. This is because the per student cost varies vastly depending on the school district size.

As customers, we often save money by buying groceries in bulk. One of the reasons that larger sizes offer better value is that the ingredient we consume is sometimes only a small part of the total cost of the whole product; the rest of the cost goes into the process that makes the product accessible, such as packaging, transportation, and rent.

Same thing with internet. To make internet available in schools, necessary facilities and equipment include, but are not limited to web servers, ethernet cables, and Wi-Fi routers. Large school districts, which are often in urban locations, usually pay much less per student than small districts, which are often in rural areas. Costs of infrastructural adaptations need to be considered when new equipment and facilities are required for high-speed internet delivery. Fiber-optic and satellite internet services have high infrastructural costs. While old-fashioned DSL internet uses existing phone lines and thus has less overhead cost, it's much slower, often making it difficult to meet the current Federal Communications Commission recommended bandwidth of 1 Mbps per student.

In short, there is no one-price-for-all when it comes to costs of school internet access. To tackle this challenge, we used the data available on Connect K-12 for districts in each of the 50 U.S. states to calculate some useful metrics for cost analyses. First, we categorized the districts with internet access according to MDR’s definition of small, medium, and large school districts (Small: 0-2,499 students; Medium: 2,500-9,999 students; Large: 10,000+ students). For each category, we calculated the following metrics which are shown in Table 1:

  1. median cost per student per year
  2. median cost per student per hour


Table 1: Internet Access Costs

District size

(# of students)

Median mbps per student per month

Median cost per mbps per month

Median cost per student per month

Cost per student per year

Cost per student per hour

Small (0-2,499)






Medium (2,500-9,999)






Large (10,000+)






National median







Note: Cost per student per hour is computed based on the assumption that schools open for 1,440 hours (36 weeks) per annum, e.g., for a small district the cost per student per hour is $29.40/1,440 = $0.02). See methods here.


Here’s an example of how you might determine an appropriate portion of the costs to attribute to a specific program or practice:  

Sunnyvale School is in a school district of 4,000 students. It offers an afterschool program in the library in which 25 students work online with remote math tutors. The program runs for 1.5 hours per day on 4 days per week for 36 weeks. Internet costs would be:


1.5 hours x 4 days x 36 weeks x 25 students x $0.007 = $37.80.


The cost per student per hour might seem tiny. Take New York City Public Schools, for example, the cost per Mbps per month is $0.13, and yet the district pays $26,000 each month for internet. For one education program or intervention, internet costs may sometimes represent only a small fraction of the overall costs and may hardly seem worth estimating in comparison to personnel salaries and fringe benefits. However, it is critical for a rigorous cost analysis study to identify all the resources needed to implement a program.

Yuan Chang is a research assistant in the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis at Teachers College, Columbia University and a researcher on the CAP Project.

 Anna Kushner is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis at Teachers College, Columbia University and a researcher for the CAP Project.