By Victoria Willingham • August 31, 2020•Writers in Residence
With fall quickly approaching, online school is in full swing for students due to the ongoing global health crisis. As a result of the requirement to operate in a virtual setting, having access to adequate internet is more prevalent than ever. Many students, however, do not have the luxury of readily available internet access. Often referred to as the homework gap as a result of the digital divide, groups of students are disproportionately disadvantaged to what may seem like an inevitable, basic necessity to most people. As the need to have internet access at home continues, various levels of government have been forced to revisit ways to help all students - no matter their demographic - have the proper tools to succeed in the many instances where they may have to continue classes from home.
Discrepancy in Stats
The FCC recently released its 2020 Broadband Progress Report outlining the status of its charge to deploy the capability of advanced telecommunications to the American people. While the report indicates that the access deficit is being minimized in a timely fashion, the magnitude of the pandemic has likely highlighted the contrary. Various independent organizations like BroadbandNow have conducted research and released reports indicating that the amount of people in the general population without internet access is much more vast at approximately 42 million in comparison to the agency’s estimation of 21.3 million. There are varying theories as to the differences in the numbers. As a result, even prior to the pandemic, Congress enacted the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act as a means to require the FCC to provide rules surrounding the methods used to collect data concerning the availability of broadband services. Since there is the potential to acquire data in a way that may overlook groups impacted, hopefully the dire need to bridge the gap will help in the acquisition of accurate numbers so the proper measurements can be set in place to alleviate the ongoing problem.
The Location Issue
A large portion of the population lacking high-speed broadband access resides in rural parts of the United States due to the lack of coverage based on what service providers can or are willing to offer. There is, however, a significant portion of similarly-situated people who experience the same lack in urban areas. In a Mapping of Detroit’s Digital Divide, research shows that more than half of students do not have broadband access in their homes. These findings combined show that a students’ zip code can impact their access to learning due to the implications of living too far outside of scope in addition being subject to lack of access as a result of having a low socioeconomic background.
State Government Solutions
With the start of the new school year, many states have made extensive efforts to address this ongoing and difficult issue. Delaware, for example, is spending $20 million in federal funding to expand broadband access since schools will potentially remain closed. Some of the funds will even go toward buying broadband for low-income families, while other funds will go to providers who have projects ready for implementation. Similarly, Maryland has allocated $10 million in grant awards to broadband access for the purpose of education. The state has also formed new design studies slated to be completed by the 2021-2022 school year. These studies will focus on feasibility and design for a statewide wireless network specifically dedicated to educational purposes.
All in all, this issue is ongoing. An enhanced necessity due to the global health crisis, hopefully the stakeholders throughout the various levels of government in conjunction with service providers and tech companies can continue to develop creative solutions that offer tangible ways to continue to minimize this divide.