Ask Me Anything! with Evan Marwell, Founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway

Ask Me Anything! with Evan Marwell, Founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway Banner Image

Sep 29, 2023


About Our Distinguished Guest

Marwell founded nonprofit Education Superhighway in 2012 with a mission to provide high speed internet in every public school classroom in America. He founded it on the foundational belief that education opens doors for people. He saw inequities in education across the country and knew that access to the internet could be a playing field leveler.

Along with his efforts with Education Superhighway, Marwell is also the co-founder and executive chairman of Ignite! Reading, an English literacy provider that works with schools to address literacy problems. He worked for several years at California-based investment adviser, Criterion Capital Management, and was the president and co-founder of a private international directory assistance provider, Infonxx.

He began his career as an associate at a management consulting firm and earned an MBA at Harvard Business School where he also earned a Bachelor of Economics.

Event Transcript

Jase: It's good to see everybody. Welcome. And, Evan, thank you for making time to hang out with the Broadband community.

Evan Marwell: Good to be here.

Jase: Awesome. Awesome. So I got some folks. I'll do one more minute. Okay? 

Jase: Great. All right. Evan where are you in space? Where are you? 

Evan: Today I'm finishing up my work remotely vacation in Hawaii, flying back to San Francisco this afternoon.

Jase: Oh, man. Thanks for spending your last bit of time with us, your Hawaii time out.

Evan: No problem. The Broadband world never stops, so. [laughter]

Jase: Broadband never sleeps, Evan.

Evan: Broadband never sleeps. Exactly, exactly.

Jase: It's awesome. Okay, everybody, welcome and thank you, everybody, for making time. Today we have a very, very special guest, somebody that has done an incredible amount of work for Broadband and connectivity, someone that does a lot of really, really important deep work in the space but it is... Has done a lot in the past and is currently doing something very, very, very important for state Broadband offices. And it's a real honor to get to hang out with Evan Marwell. He's a founder and CEO of SuperHighway EDU. I wanna say thank you, Evan, for making time to hang out with the Broadband community and for everything that you're doing for connectivity, dude. So welcome and thank you.

Evan: It's great to be here. This super important group of people that we're talking to today and we've got a... What I hope is... Well, maybe not hope, but what I think maybe a once in a generation opportunity to really make a huge impact on the digital divide. And the folks on this hang out are the ones who are gonna be where the rubber hits the road and really be the ones deciding how do we make the best use of this opportunity. So glad to help any way we can.

Jase: Yeah. Spot on, Evan. And I would love it if we could start off with you to introduce yourself, just a bit about your background. It doesn't have to be day zero like how your parents met or anything like that, but take us back, Evan, and I really want it to lead to what the hell brought you to Broadband in the first place? As in that equation, so love to hear from you.

Evan: Yeah. So a little bit back to day zero. So I'm a proud mid-Westerner, grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, still a big fan of the Green Bay Packers despite what happened last night and... [laughter]

Jase: Totally, not Googling what happened.

Evan: Yeah, no. Anyway, so really came to this work, first and foremost, through my passion for education. Both my parents were educators. My father's a professor. My mother was a psychologist in the Madison public school systems and also an adjunct professor at the university there. For me education has just made a huge difference in my life. Every door that opened for me opened because I got a great public school education in Madison, Wisconsin. And so I came to Broadband work, originally, through some professional experiences I had. My first business that I started was a call center company that we... I had to learn how to build networks and we had, at that time, T1's running across the country connecting our call center to telecom switches around the country.

Evan: But that's what got me into the telecom space. And then I, actually, became an investor in telecom companies. And then in 2012 had the opportunity to get involved with, actually, trying to make a difference for Broadband connectivity in schools.

Evan: It's a bit of a long story, but essentially boils down to, I ended up at a meeting at the White House and came out of that challenge to try to do something to solve the school Broadband problem.

Evan: Back in 2012, only 10% of schools had sufficient internet access in their classrooms to be able to leverage the internet and technology for teaching and learning. And I thought this doesn't make any sense to me. We were spending, as a nation, $2.4 billion a year to bring internet to schools. Why would it be that the typical school had a cable modem and a WiFi network that couldn't reach every classroom? So we set out... That's when we founded EducationSuperHighway and... Sorry about that. That's when we founded EducationSuperHighway to try to make a difference in that. And over the course of eight years, we went from 10% of schools connected to 99.3%, excuse me, of schools connected.

Jase: Oh, bless you. Quick question for you, Evan. So can you say those stats again, the before and after of your work in connecting schools? 

Evan: Yeah, so in 2012 10% of schools had sufficient bandwidth to use technology for teaching and learning in the classroom, 2019, 99%, and by 2020, 99.3% of schools had sufficient bandwidth to use technology in the classroom.

Jase: Most people when they get to 99% they're like, "All right," but you kept going, man. Why? 

Evan: Well, it's, actually, interesting. So, actually, our plan was to be done. We had achieved our goal. We had actually set up a follow-on piece of work that was being done by Connected Nation and Funds For Learning to, sort of, keep the momentum going. A big part of what we did was create price transparency in the marketplace, and that turned out to be a huge help to schools in terms of increasing their bandwidth. Over the period that we were... Over a five-year period the cost of bandwidth for schools went down by 92%. And that was mostly expressed in schools getting a lot more bandwidth for the money that they were spending. And we wanted to make sure that that kept going. And today, I'm happy to report, in the three years since we stopped focusing on schools, what we've seen is that the percentage of schools that are now meeting the FCC's 1 megabit per student standard as opposed to the 100 kilobits per student standard has gone from, sort of, 20% to almost 70%. So it's continued to go up. But we were, actually, scheduled to go out of business in August of 2020. And we had been an organization of 70 people. We were down to about 12 when the pandemic hit. And when the pandemic hit, we started getting phone calls from all the people we'd worked with to connect schools.

Jase: Oh, God! 

Evan: And, essentially, yeah, saying, "Wait, you can't go out of business."

Jase: Just when you thought you were out. That's amazing.

Evan: Exactly. And so they were like, "Yeah, we just sent 50 million kids home and a third of them don't have internet. We don't know what to do about it. Can you help?" And so we were like, "Okay, we're supposed to be here for another five months anyway. We'll just shift our attention to that instead of the other things we were planning to do as part of our wind down." And at the time, everyone thought the pandemic was going to last a couple months and then it would be over and we could just continue on our merry way to shut down. But, as we all know, that's not what happened. And so we shifted our attention to working on the home Broadband problem. Originally, the homework gap, as it's called, how do we get those 15 million kids that got sent home and didn't have internet access connected? But, ultimately, we decided that we needed to stick around beyond that to focus on what we call the Broadband affordability gap, which is the 17 million households in this country that have access to the internet but are offline because they can't afford it. And the reason we decided to stick around has been that there was a real change in the political will in this country around solving the digital divide, in my opinion.

Evan: We'd been talking about the digital divide forever and we'd made some good progress against the digital divide, but it was slow progress. It was, sort of, 1% a year kind of progress. And with the pandemic, it really made clear to everybody across the political spectrum about how important internet access is today to be able to function in this world; whether it's being able to work remotely, being able to find new jobs, being able to send your kids to school, being able to get new training so that you can find new jobs, telehealth, all the things that everybody on this call knows about.

Evan: And so there emerged a consensus that, "Hey, we actually have to make faster progress." And that got reflected at first in some of the CARES Act stuff that happened with the emergency Broadband benefit, and then, ultimately, the infrastructure bill with BEAD and the Affordable Connectivity Program. And I would say that it is the single largest commitment we've ever made as a nation to solving the digital divide. And, importantly, it is also the first time that the discussion shifted from simply being about access to also being about affordability and actually getting people online. And so with that, we've stuck around and we've been working on that problem ever since, and largely in partnership with state Broadband offices and states, just as we did with our school work, which, again, our primary partners were governors and states, departments of education, working to get schools connected.

Jase: That was spot on, Evan. Thank you. You mentioned state Broadband offices. Can we spend a second there? Because already we work with a lot of amazing state Broadband offices. And one thing that we've heard over and over from a lot of our amazing state Broadband office customers is that the work that y'all are doing at EDU is ground-playing important work. They sing your praises. It's very glowing reviews of the things that you provide to these folks in the states. And particularly, there are tools like you help with the the reality of the multi-dwelling unit, as the industry calls it. At Ready, we call it multiple families that need Broadband. And the states that we work with say things like this is indispensable, what y'all do. So can we spend a little bit of time talking about what exactly are you doing now that you're focused on... You said the at-home Broadband problem, but you're actually getting very directly involved with helping these states make good choices and stuff like that. So can you talk about that? What do y'all do? 

Evan: Yeah. So there's a whole bunch of things we do. Just as before, we're working at the policy level, we're working at the providing people with data. We're actually working on the ground, both standing up demonstration projects of how free WiFi networks and affordable MDUs can really make a difference for people, how they can be implemented, showing people that it's the most cost-effective approach to connecting folks. What we're seeing is an average of $600 to connect a household in an MDU using a WiFi approach versus what could be $3000, $4000, $6000, $10,000 to connect a single family resident, and also can be implemented much, much faster because typically there's a lot less construction that needs to be done.

Evan: So we're involved there. And we're also involved with the Affordable Connectivity Program; helping states and communities increase the rate of adoption of that. Specifically, some of the things that we're doing... So I'd say at the highest level, it's been around educating people on what the opportunities are. So we started by helping people understand the extent of the Broadband affordability gap in their communities and where it was located. So we had a dashboard on our website that people could see down to the, sort of, community level, how many people are unconnected and where in their communities. So that thinking about, strategically, how do they help solve this problem? 

Evan: We then did a major report on the Affordable Connectivity Program that, again, showed adoption rates down to the community level, but also the best practices that people were using around the country to increase adoption. And what we've seen, we've seen adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program, sort of, creep up over time. I think we're close to 30% now, maybe even a little higher. But there are communities in this country that are now at 80% adoption. And so how do we take the lessons learned from them and share those more broadly? And then when it comes to MDUs, getting even more detailed, and specifically there, helping people understand like what MDUs are eligible. We've actually produced specific lists of buildings that qualify under the BEAD criteria in terms of meeting the poverty cost and the lack of connectivity tasks.

Evan: So for every state we're providing them with model language for their initial proposals and their Broadband plans, as well as lists of buildings that they can focus on. And then we'll be participating in challenge processes across the country to help make sure that folks that aren't connected actually get connected. Because one of the really unfortunate things in this whole process is that the FCC, long ago, made a decision to consider MDUs a single Broadband location, and there are way too many instances of MDUs that may have connectivity to the manager's office but not to the individual units, or they may have a little bit of connectivity but not enough to meet the standards for every unit simultaneously. And, in fact, we've done some deep assessments in two states, in Delaware and Colorado, and what we found is that the maps are off by at least 40% in terms of the number of served MDUs and underserved MDUs.

Evan: So it's a huge problem. And so we're working with states to actually identify those buildings, both in the pre-challenge process...

Jase: 40? 

Evan: Yeah, 40%, 40%. Yeah. And it's because of two things. So number one, the FCC made this decision that to treat an MDU as a single location. But the second reason is that the FCC has been incredibly liberal in allowing providers to claim that buildings are served.

Jase: Yeah, the office, like you said...

Evan: Yeah, it's just... And that's why we have this 40% error rate. There are fixed wireless providers who claim to serve a whole building and then you call them for service, and not just fixed wireless providers, providers of all kinds, and then you go on their website or call them to order service and they're like, "Oh, no, no. We don't actually... We have infrastructure in the area but [0:17:23.0] ____ that building. So it's a huge problem.

Jase: Yeah, JK. Oh man. Okay, Evan, that's awesome. And states, folks who are watching, I know a lot of state directors catch up with the footage in the summary notes after the calls. But states, if you're not yet working with Evan and the EDU crew, you probably should be. If for nothing else then just to... There is a significant chance that your programs are undercounting families that need Broadband as a result of the, sort of, weird mechanics of the initial rollout. A lot of people working really hard to roll out those programs. Everybody makes mistakes. This is one that this EDU crew can help you to correct. So make sure to check that out. But talk about that for a second, Evan. You and I met in 2018.

Jase: Before I go into a sidebar, folks that have questions that are on the call, make sure you ask them into the chat if you want to. We have some great questions from the page for the event. So we'll ask those in a few minutes.

Jase: But I do wanna spend a moment, Evan. In 2018, you and I met through our mutual friends at Emerson Collective. That's a crew that's doing incredibly important work. They introduced us. Our very first conversation, you're sitting there talking about how hard you're working to get the... I think you were at 90 something percent. You were like, "No, I'm not stopping until it's 99 something percent." On the first conversations you said, "Yeah, well, there needs to be a lot more grant funding for middle and last mile." I remember you saying that. It stuck out to me. And then on the beginning of this call in our prep session, you said something that really struck me as you're just so deeply focused and committed on making this thing as good as it can be. You said that 2024 is going to be an important year. Can you say more about what you mean by that? What the hell's going on and how do you see it playing out and everything? 

Evan: Yeah, 2024 is gonna be the year that the rubber hits the road. So it's the year that everybody has to make their plans. And it means that we have to start making the decisions, the tough decisions about what's going to get funded, what's not going to get funded. 2024 is also the year where the future of the Affordable Connectivity Program is going to be taken up. The program is expected to run out of money in 2024, maybe as early as June 2024. And we're potentially in a situation where 20 million households are going to get cut off and probably a couple million of those households will end up without internet access. And so one of the things that's really important for states to be doing right now is getting in touch with your senators and getting in touch with your Congress people and telling them how important it is to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program. So 2024 is gonna be a huge year 'cause it's gonna be the year that we transition from, "Okay, we have this opportunity because of the Infrastructure Act too. Okay, here's what we're actually gonna get done."

Jase: It becomes real, yeah. You've been thinking about it a while, a lot of hard brokers thinking about it for a long time. 2024 is the year. Everybody has a part, like you said. So, if I heard you correctly, get on the horn with senators, write letters, defend the ACP program. As a guy that grew up in a dirt-ass poor household, I would really love to see folks that have a need for connectivity, which is everybody, that don't have the resources to pay the big bill, to have their share of ACP, whatever it becomes. It's foundationally important to a lot of people's lives. You said 20 million. Probably, that will be 30, 40 million or so by the end of the, sort of, full distribution run, of folks that could and should get it. And they need a lot of help. So I'm gonna also send a shout out. Actually, I looked at what you said about Green Bay, and I think what you mean is they got lionsed and the Detroit crew came in and did a number on 'em.

Jase: Listen, man, I'm a Chiefs fan and the same thing happened game one. So we've got that going for us. Okay. I wanna say something about... I wanna talk some trash on Scott Woods. He's an amazing human being. He's on the call, so I feel justified... He's from Detroit, but he's a Cowboys fan. So maybe he's a traitor in some people's... I think some people in Detroit would call that a traitor. Maybe, maybe not. But he asked a really great question and he... By the way, he's one of the architects of the really important parts of the BEAD Program, including the stuff around local coordination and making sure that communities are at the table, have a say in those things like from the NTIA days, so, yeah, shout out to that. But he asks, Evan, in your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to achieving universal connectivity? 

Evan: Without question, it's affordability.

Jase: Affordability.

Evan: Yeah. If you look at the digital divide, as of about a year and a half ago, about 25% of the households in this country did not have internet access, home internet access. And if you look at that, about two thirds of it was because they couldn't afford it. It wasn't because they [0:23:20.5] ____. It was because they couldn't afford it. So, without question, affordability is the number one barrier to achieving universal connectivity. We have to solve the access problems. We have some education things to, sort of, help people understand how the internet can change their lives, particularly amongst elderly folks. But without question, it's affordability, and that's why the Affordable Connectivity Program is such a critical thing. It's also such a critical thing because if we go out and invest $42 billion in building new networks to places and then people can't afford it, it's gonna mean that those networks are not financially stable, which is one of the things all the time I'm thinking about, Jace.

Jase: Okay, two thirds, affordability... Affordability the number one problem by far. Evan, you're a polymath, dude. You did investments, you did all these things. Do you see a connection between, sort of, increasing supply and access to some extent, but also in investing in infrastructure, using some of the public resources to invest in infrastructure that could potentially lower the cost structure of service such that affordability is an outcome, or is affordability only... Is this only solution in the form of programs that can bring a subsidy or a benefit into the home, like the ACP program? 

Evan: Well, it's really funny because I think what we've seen is that the infrastructure bill and the Affordable Connectivity Program has already made Broadband more affordable. Today, 90% of the households in this country can get a 100 megabit plan for $30 or less. Like think about that. To get a 100 megabit plan before all of this happened was gonna cost you minimum $55, $60 and more like $70, $75, $80. So the fact that we created this plan at $30, this government subsidy, at $30 became a price center in the market, and that's not gonna go away. Those $30 plans are here to stay. Now, the problem is that for those 17 million people, most of them can't even afford a $30 plan. Most of them couldn't even afford a $10 plan.

Evan: So I think that even though we're seeing the cost of Broadband fall, and it will keep falling. Remember what happened in schools; 92% decrease in the cost of Broadband for schools over five years. It's gonna keep falling, but there is this entry level threshold and there are just a bunch of households in this country that cannot afford it. And so that's why I think that to solve the Broadband affordability gap, we've gotta figure out how to make Broadband free for these households. And whether that's free by taking a page out of what hotels have done and what's happening in luxury apartment buildings and making free WiFi networks available in affordable housing, or whether it's making sure that we have a subsidy, like the Affordable Connectivity Program or perhaps changing the way the Universal Service Fund works and making it part of the Universal Service Fund. We need to have these things if we want everybody to be online and we need everyone to be online if we wanna be as productive as a society as we can be.

Jase: Okay. I dig that. So, yeah, definitely to making sure benefits are part of the solution stack overall. You mentioned USF. I read a report one time that was... Yeah, 58% of the USF Haul... What's the USF Haul? How much is it? How many billions is that a year? It's more than plenty for...

Evan: Well, I think it's north of $10 billion. I've lost track of what the actual specific...

Jase: All right, so what was... The ACP was, what, $14 billion total for however long it lasted? 

Evan: Yeah.

Jase: So there's hope, that there's a there there. There's maybe additional something surcharge in addition on BEAD-funded Broadband programs or something like this. I don't know how it worked, but USF, I read a report, that was 58% of it's GNA. Whoa.

Evan: GNA? 

Jase: General administrative... The paying for the program and not actually doling out to benefit.

Evan: Oh, no, no. No, no, no, no. That's not true. That's not true at all. That's not true at all. So USAC, which Universal Service Fund Administrative Company, which runs the program, I think has a $100 million dollar a year budget, out of $10 plus billion. Maybe it's 200 million dollars a year.

Jase: Excellent.

Evan: We're talking pennies.

Jase: Yeah, I might be misinterpreting it.

Evan: I think the 58% you might be thinking about might be, sort of, the contribution factor, about how much of a fee they're having to put on long distance revenues, but that even sounds high to me as well. Look, the Universal Service Fund, about $4 billion goes to E-Rate, which is the program for schools. I believe, and my numbers are out of date, so don't hold me to these numbers, but I believe there's about a billion dollars or so that goes to the Lifeline Program. And then there's several hundred million that goes to the rural healthcare program. And then the biggest piece by far, well not by far, but bigger than E-Rate, is historically the High Cost Program, or the Connect America Fund as they call it, which was all about extending infrastructure out into rural America.

Evan: Well, so here's the interesting thing. If the BEAD program is successful and basically gets us to 99% or whatever, now there's this $4 billion, $5 billion, $6 billion from the High Cost Program, and again, my numbers could be wrong, but it's in that range, that can we reallocate it to something? Can we reallocate it to an affordability benefit without having to actually increase the size of the Universal Service Fund? 

Evan: So there's this really interesting harmony between USF and the infrastructure bill that's gonna open up some opportunities for us to rethink the USF program and what its mission is. The other thing I would say is that as we think about the next phase of the Affordable Connectivity Program, and whether it's an independent program or whether it becomes part of the USF, I think we also have to ask ourselves the question of what is the goal of this program? When the ACP was created, it was about both getting people online and keeping people online. People were going through economic hardship because of the pandemic. And one of the things we realized is we need to keep people online. My own personal opinion is that we need to transition either the USF or the ACP to be a program about getting people online, not necessarily keeping everybody online that the ACP has been keeping online. And that is how we can make this program cost effective. And that is how we can make sure that the program can help close the digital divide and the Broadband affordability gap.

Jase: Interesting. So as BEAD rolls out, reallocate portions of USF, I'm interested, though, before we dive into the questions from the community, on that last point you said about making it more about a program that gets people online. Can you say more about that? How does that work? 

Evan: Yeah, if you look at the reality of the Affordable Connectivity Program, when you talk to ISPs, probably 90% of the people who are taking advantage of the Affordable Connectivity Program had internet before the program started. And so for a lot of those people, the program was a lifeline that, no pun intended, but was a way of keeping them online during the pandemic. I think we have to ask ourselves the question of like, "Do we need to continue supporting all of those folks in staying online or, are they able now, that life is getting back to normal and people are back at work and all this kind of thing, can we focus the program on those 17 million households that are not online and making sure that internet is free for them?"

Evan: And I think the other question we should ask ourselves is what kind of internet, not necessarily what technology, but what do we want those... How do we want those people getting online? And if the Lifeline Program today is largely about wireless service, should the Affordable Connectivity Program be about home connectivity as opposed to wireless service? I don't know the answer to these questions, but there's a lot of questions I think we need to ask ourselves in terms of what is the goal of the program going forward.

Jase: Okay. Yeah. Thank you, Evan. Let's turn it over real fast to folks who have asked questions from the community. First question is from Drew Clark. Can you tell us more about the post COVID moment at EDU SuperHighway? You touched on it a little bit, but why did you almost go out of business? I think he's framing that wrong. You actually had a scheduled shutdown and it prompted you for the additional mission. You covered that but... I think you've actually addressed that, so.

Jase: [0:33:31.3] ____ asked, "Thank you for taking the important work on connecting every classroom to Broadband. It's a critical step toward addressing the digital divide. But I imagine there are other services, curriculums, training technologies, etcetera, required to realize lasting improvements in the education of the student body." I know you've flipped over, Evan, to some extent, to the connecting homes work, that you've become one of the most important people in connecting schools and getting... Education is the foundation of why you're in the space in the first place. Can you say more about that? And he says, "Can you describe the partnerships and cooperation necessary at local and national levels to pull off the ambitious goal that you had, beyond the connection?"

Evan: Yeah. Okay. So two things. So our theory, when we set out to connect all the schools, was if you build it, they will come. If we put great connectivity into schools, teachers and students will figure out how to use it to improve education. And I think to a great extent, we are seeing that. There's unbelievable amount of technology impacting education. That said, as I, sort of, sat there in 2020 looking at the fact that we had connected 99.3% of schools to high speed Broadband, I did ask myself, "Okay, now that we have connectivity in every school, what's a problem that we can solve with this connectivity?" And I ended up focusing on the literacy crisis in this country. So for those of you who don't know, today two thirds of the students in our nation cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade. And when you can't read at grade level by the end of third grade, it means that you are four times more likely not to graduate from high school and 12 times more likely to end up in prison. In fact, there are states that forecast their need for prisons based on their third grade reading levels.

Jase: Oh, my God.

Jase: And then two thirds, if you look at communities of color and communities in poverty, it's 82% cannot read at grade level. It turns out that, for most of those kids, the reason they can't read at grade level is that they were never taught how to decode a sentence. So to learn to read first you need to learn how to decode a sentence, how to sound out the letters and words in a sentence and be able to read a sentence. And then you need to just practice a lot so that reading becomes automatic for you. And then you can read at grade level. And it also turns out that the way we've been teaching reading for the last 40 years did not focus on that first part of learning to decode sentences. So, actually, in October of 2020, about three years ago, I founded a new organization called Ignite Reading to leverage the internet in schools to teach kids how to decode. And what we provide is 15 minutes a day of one-on-one tutoring over the internet with a live person to kids. And the kids made two and a half weeks of reading progress...

Jase: Okay. That is so badass.

Evan: For every week in the program.

Jase: That is awesome.

Evan: Yeah. And so we're today...

Jase: Is it a one to one or is it a one to many? 

Evan: It's a one to one 15 minutes a day session focused on these foundational reading skills that teach you how to decode. And we are now serving almost 7000 students a day. And none of this would've been possible without Broadband in every school and the pandemic, because what the pandemic did is it taught schools that actually there are certain things that you can teach virtually, and so Zoom is a thing. And whereas... If we tried to do this prior to the pandemic, people would have been like, "Oh, you wanna do tutoring? You have to send a tutor to my school." And that is just completely unscalable. I believe that we can scale to teaching a million kids a day to read with less than 100,000 tutors, which is not a huge number of tutors. And we can change the course of reading in America.

Evan: So when I think about how can the Broadband that we've put in schools make a difference? It's things like that. There's an organization called Zearn that is doing similar stuff with math. So there are a lot of opportunities now to really change things. And it takes, in my opinion, organizations and leaders, and I think state governments and governors, there are 36 states now that have passed legislation around the science of reading, which is, sort of, making sure kids learn how to decode sentences. And more and more states are now starting to fund things like tutoring and other interventions that are virtual in nature, leveraging the internet in schools to be able to do this. And that's what it's gonna take to...

Jase: That's freaking beautiful, dude.

Evan: To really make a difference.

Jase: First of all, thank you, man. That's badass. That's cool. That's really freaking cool. Ignite Reading over the internet. Dave Tate... Dave Tate or Todd, is it Tate or Todd. Tate or Todd? Anyway, he's asking the question. Can this be automated? Maybe there's a scalability to the thing that you're doing there with Ignite. It's like 7000 kids is awesome but 700,000 kids is... That's pretty awesome. But yeah. Let's keep going. We're...

Evan: Yeah. I think technology plays a role. But when you're talking about five and six and seven year olds, the problem with technology is...

Jase: One on one.

Evan: Getting them to use it. Yeah.

Jase: Oaky. Fair.

Evan: And so it's hard.

Jase: Todd, it's not Tate. It's Todd. Okay. So [0:39:31.8] ____ Sushiil, Sushi-il, Sushiil, that's a wonderful name, asks, "What are some of the greatest obstacles to getting multi dwelling units connected to Broadband?" Now I'm hungry for some reason.

Evan: Yeah. So the first obstacle is the funding. And the first obstacle to the funding is making sure that MDUs that are not connected get on the list. As a state Broadband leader, whether you're using the pre-challenge process to put MDUs that we know are not connected onto the list so that the ISPs have to provide the evidence that they are connected, or whether you're setting up your challenge process and following the guidance of NTIA about how to do that, and making sure that you hold ISPs to the standard of evidence that NTIA has laid out. That's the first process, the first part. And my team is available to help you all with those things. We've already got almost a dozen states that we're working with, and we'd like to work with all 50 to help you through that. The second challenge...

Jase: 56... Hey, hold on. 56.

Evan: Yeah, 56. Correct. Correct. Correct. The second challenge is gonna be setting up your program once you've identified the buildings to do it. There are two approaches that states can take, and that we've already been experimenting with on a smaller scale with some states. One is to do a grant program where you ask building owners to apply for funds to get their buildings connected. The other, actually, is running a procurement, which is probably in the long run a more efficient way to do it, where you say, "Here's my list. Put it out for bid," and, obviously, people don't have to bid on every building, but that will probably be the most efficient way to get this done the most rapidly.

Evan: And then the third challenge is gonna be around making sure that the key stakeholders engage in the process. And so that's both making sure you have ISPs and MSPs that know about your grant program or your procurement, and so that they're participating in that. And it's about making sure that building owners know about this. And so EducationSuperhighway has a program that helps with all of those things. So we're helping people with the pre-challenge process, where we'll be participating in challenge processes and bringing data to help challenge things where we have to, we have team members who can provide technical assistance on setting up your grant or procurement programs, and then we have team members who do outreach to building owners to make sure they know about things and outreach to MSPs to get them to build.

Evan: So we've built a full stack solution. And by the way, it's all free to states. So we've built a full stack solution to help states do all of those things in the interest of making sure that they get their multiple dwelling units connected. And just to put it in perspective, Jace, we think there are about 80,000 buildings in the country that are BEAD eligible, not necessarily have been identified as unserved or underserved yet, and those 80,000 buildings represent 3.7 million unconnected households, unconnected households plus probably they represent something like 10 million total households. So think about that. We can take down 20% of the digital divide just by getting these 80,000 buildings connected to free WiFi.

Jase: And you've got your cost structure figured out where you're getting... You're hitting... It was $600 to $800 a home, a family. That's... Yeah.

Evan: Yeah, $600, $650. Yeah, it's the most cost-effective thing we can do.

Jase: There's gonna be two camps. We think about it as two camps. There's states that are either ready or they're not for all this stuff that's happening with BEAD. I'm dropping a link into the chat about one of the tools, the challenge process coordinator. We wanna work with you very directly on all those challenges you're doing 'cause you're bringing really important folks to the table. But states that are listening to this on live or listening after, if you're not working with EDU, you're probably not, actually, gonna get your goals for BEAD full stop because... You're gonna find all the MDUs. You're not gonna be able to bring this type of serviceability at that price point. It's MDUs without that kinda support. So, definitely, check that out. But it dovetails into your third point, Evan. Dovetails into something that Leonard Robinson asked, which is, "What are some successful examples... " I'm sorry. Looking at the wrong one. I have my list of questions. How embarrassing. Brilliant guest. Shitty host. Hold on, hold on.

Jase: I had one and it was a really good one.

Evan: While you're doing that, I'll say one more thing. Look, we're doing all this work...

Jase: Please do. Thank you.

Evan: Because we know how overwhelmed state Broadband offices are. You have been given a ridiculous amount to do.

Jase: Oh, it's insane.

Evan: And you have to do it in a way that is just... People are asking for perfection. Perfection is really hard. And we know you're under-resourced. We know you're understaffed. And we're just trying to help make certain pieces of this, both with MDUs for the BEAD program and also with helping you drive adoption of your Affordable Connectivity Program easy.

Jase: Yeah, you're right. The state directors, it's like median $750 million or so, highest best use over the next few years. Good luck. And then there's like the states are like, "Yeah, you can only have three people and if you try to get a fourth, no." And it's just like they've taken on one of the most important and craziest challenging jobs in the history of jobs in in this space. So, yeah, huge shout out to everything that y'all are doing there. I don't think I was ever able to find that person, but...

Evan: 100%

Jase: We'll keep rolling. Ben Kahn, who's our wonderful support here on the crew. Thank you Ben for everything you do to get these calls to be smooth. You need to work on finding better hosts, but everything else is pretty great overall. Asks the question like, "What have you found that are some of the best practices for group seeking partners to not only build infrastructure but to effectively reach out to stakeholders and improve digital literacy?" Because you're bringing stakeholders at the table, so... And that reminds me of what the hell the question was, which is something that you're doing directly. And it's another question been asked which is you speak to your approach to digital equity and how it's shifted over the course of your work, because even though you haven't said what you like a single time on this call, you do a lot in that space; to bring people to the table and to bring stakeholders that, like you said on your third point, aren't at the table, necessarily. So can you talk about that? 

Evan: Yeah, so most of our digital equity work has focused around increasing adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program, and we've really focused on two different pathways to doing that. So the first has been how do we reach unconnected households? Because if you can't reach them, if you can't tell them about the program, if you can't build trust in the program, if you can't help them enroll, you're not gonna get digital equity. And to do that what we've found is that there's two successful channels. The first is partner channels. So we actually have already worked with over,000 partners across the country to do outreach to unconnected households. And what we've learned is that what's critically important is to have a convening organization that can bring those partners to the table, and that probably the best convening organization is. The state the state has the reach and the ability to get folks. So we, actually, have partnerships with 19 states now, where we are we are leveraging the state as a convener to bring organizations together.

Evan: And the second thing that we've learned is that it's important to be very clear with organizations what you need them to do as opposed to just, sort of, saying, "Hey, go do some outreach and here are some resources." You need to give them a roadmap in terms of, "Here the activities that work." And those are the kinds of things that we're publishing in terms of best practices and things like that. The other thing though that we learned is that you need to make it easier for people to sign up for the program. As I'm sure many folks know, signing up for the Affordable Connectivity Program through the National Verifier, USAC's National Verifier, can be quite challenging. We think that probably the people who start the process abandon it and only 45% of the people who complete the process actually get connected.

Evan: And so what we have done is we have built a mobile website called that started by being an eligibility screener and a application preparation tool. So it would tell people, "These are the documents you're gonna need. This is the questions you're gonna need to answer," so they would be ready. And now we are piloting, and it will launch next month, we are piloting in certain communities a version of it that actually allows people to go all the way through the application process without ever having to go to the National Verifier. So we have codes to now. And what we're finding is that folks who use the tool so far are getting through the entire application process in five minutes. So those streamings...

Jase: Yeey.

Evan: Yes, exactly. And all we did was bring, sort of, all the principles of user-centered design as well as we have a contact center that's available at a click of a button to anyone who gets stuck along the way. So all that to say there's a huge role for states and state Broadband offices to play when it comes to both convening partners. And we're co-branding with State Department, with states that helps with trust issues, things like that, and a lot of states are now starting to use that as the place they send people to when they say, "Hey, go sign up for the portable connectivity program. Go to" So.

Jase: Freaking on from like, "Hey, you're working three jobs to put food on the table. We need you to spend six hours gathering a bunch of PDFs and historic records and crap like that." Okay. That's awesome that you're streamlining it. That's really good to know. We have a system that does that to the round trip to USAC, but I love it; everything you said, Evan. And I wish we had another seven hours with you because there's... You're a master class in progress right now, but we don't. We have nine more minutes. We have eight more minutes now S.

Jase: So we're gonna keep... We're gonna go into what's the lightning round. But folks that are on the call that are part of the Broadband community, we invite you to the series. There's always awesome guests on. Evan is, absolutely, otherworldly amazing. Two weeks from now, Friday the 13th, I kid you not, you can't make this crap up. We have Jason. Friday 13, Jason. On Friday the 13th, at the same time, we have Jason Rudin, of Clad, talking about what he's building to help make sure that contracting and procurement, compliance with things like Davis-Bacon, all the mechanics that go into actually deploying Broadband networks, that you got your crews in order. So you're not gonna want to miss that one. So we'll keep rolling here Scott Woods has a follow-up question. "What are strategies for successful stakeholder community engagement for him to use?" States need help, we can help too. I can't can touch on that. Can you, a little bit? 

Evan: Yeah. So for stakeholders, if you think about who are the important stakeholders, it's, first, the building owners. You got to get them to want to participate. It's, second, the ISPs and the MSPs who can actually install the networks. And then, third, it's the residents. And so what we found is that if you want to engage building owners, the best way to do it is through a classic outreach campaign. So we have a team of folks who uses HubSpot CRM tool to run email outreach campaigns, direct phone calling campaigns, leveraging partners who have connectivity into building owners, whether it's real estate agents or things like that. And we're building and have built a playbook that we'll be sharing with states as we move into the next phase. But we're also here to provide that support, again, pro bono to help states engage these folks.

Jase: How you pay for all that stuff? You're a nonprofit so you get grants. You're grant-funded? 

Evan: Correct.

Jase: Cool. Awesome.

Evan: We get grants from folks like Emerson Collective, who we met originally. So...

Jase: Shout out to EC, the crew. There's an emergency siren in the background. Are you okay? 

Evan: It's not on my end.

Jase: Oh, shit. Really? Yeah. We're borrowing a building for this in Miami. Maybe it's on my end. Am I Okay? Maybe. But two other quick questions in lightning round. Was that a Prince ringtone? 

Evan: No.

Jase: On your phone? It wasn't. Okay. My audio is not that great. So it sounded like a Prince song. Okay. Well, awesome. Dave Tate's got another one here. He says... Oh, one laptop a child. He asks, "Are you involved in training school administrators about security?" And Dave, if you haven't seen it he's got LibreQoS and has pioneered some stuff in making sure that networks don't have a bunch of cumulative latency so that you can do realtime things. And I think it's an important part of the future of education for being realtime and very responsive and not just high bandwidth. But he asked, "Are you involved in training school administrators about security and/or how to set up WiFi networks? Did you do that part? 

Evan: Not security. We used to be in the business of helping school administrators figure out how to do their WiFi networks. Largely, what we did is connect them with good bars, but we also got them... We had training materials and all that kind of stuff. That was ESH 1.0, our schoolwork. In ESH 2.0, we are no longer directly working with schools on that, but we are directly working with schools on how to increase adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Programme amongst their connected families.

Jase: Yeah. Spot on. And he asked another question too. It says, "I remember when computers and how they could reinforce learning was also a useful thing. Apple and others produced learning tools like flashcards. I tend to think that reproducing the classroom experience online is not what we need, but tools that may or may not have access to the internet that enhance learning." So I just think that there's a rich universe of things that come from what you're doing with your Ignite, and those are things that we'd love to see as a more available scalable things. 7000. Awesome. But do you have other examples like that that you're working on or that you imagine? 

Evan: So I think there's a role for technology to make more efficient, certain things that are already happening. I think we're doing with Ignite, there's also a role for technology in terms of rethinking how we're teaching various things. And so another example is Zearn, which is rethinking how kids learn math. And what I would say is, to be successful you have to take a specific problem and then take the blinders off, of what's possible in terms of how to solve that specific problem. For us it's about teaching kids how to decode sentences. So how do we do that? What are new approaches that haven't been tried historically? So there's a lot of opportunity. It means we have to get the infrastructure in place first. Now that's there. So I think we're seeing people start to...

Jase: Still with you, Evan? Can you hear me okay? 

Evan: I can hear you.

Jase: Okay. One more minute. You touched on how kids are learning. It reminds me of a conversation that's underway with advances in AI. I'd love to close this out with your thoughts on this topic. Are you between, say, Terminator, we're about to see the uprising and go to war with the superior intelligence. And it's been so long and thanks for all the fish kind of scenario for us, all the way out to more of a Star Trek like Spock learning in a pod kind of utopia, where there's assisted learning of human children by machine intelligence. Where do you stand on this and do you see that playing a role? And what do you think about it? 

Evan: I think AI will play a huge role in learning. I don't think we've figured out how yet. I think that there's going to be a lot of experimentation that happens and we need to put in place some boundaries. We need to put in place some rules so that... Just as we've put in place rules for all kinds of other things; like privacy rules and things like that. So the challenge is that the rules we put in place may not be put in place in other places. And then who knows where that leads in terms of the competitive dynamics globally. So I tend to be an optimist. There are lots of bad things going on in this world. There will continue to be lots of bad things. I'm sure there will be bad things with AI, but there can also be a lot of good things. And so it's a question of how do we minimize the bad and maximize the good by focusing people on the right problems? And I think industry is doing some of this themselves. I think the government has a role to play here.

Jase: Okay. Well, spot on on that, Evan, I'm not surprised that it was spot on. You are a freaking legend, dude. You've done a lot to help folks connect. You've connected a lot of schools to Broadband. Now you're connecting a lot of folks that are in situations that would've possibly been completely freaking overlooked by our nation's largest ever... Potentially last major investment in Broadband. So on behalf of everybody at the Broadband community, Evan, and the squad ready, I want to say thank you for everything that you do to get folks connected and appreciate your making time. I know you're busy down in Hawaii, so thank you for everything, dude. It was good to see you.

Evan: Well, my pleasure and I hope people feel free to reach out to us at EducationSuperHighway to...

Jase: How do they do that? What's the URL? Let's throw that on there.

Evan: It's, and you can reach out to anyone on our government affairs team. You're mostly probably already in touch with them. And if you're not, they'll be in touch with you.

Jase: There you go. All right, well, I appreciate you, dude. And thanks to all that you do too...

Evan: Awesome. Thanks for having me here.

Jase: And you guys have a wonderful day. 

Evan: Take care.