Internet for all – Why not now?

How can we expect to effectively reimagine education post-covid if we do not have the capacity or the will to solve problems that, for the most part, we know how to solve? In Part 1 of this post, Thomas Hatch brings together a few of the many articles that show that providing internet access to all is an enduring problem despite the evidence that many disconnected students and families could be connected using available approaches. Part 2 will provide links to some of the approaches that are being pursued to work on the problem. This article is one in a series of articles looking at what can and should change in education post-pandemic.

What can change in schools post-pandemic? We can provide internet connections and access to devices. But do we have the capacity and the will?

Like other basic utilities, internet connections and access to devices could provide a foundation for more equitable access too educational opportunities around the world. It is no panacea, of course, as adding more connected devices does not necessarily mean that students will learn more. Further, for some time in, particularly in some parts of the developing world, radio and television – rather than internet connections – are likely to continue to provide educational access as they did during the pandemic’s school closures.  yet even in the US, the pandemic exposed that many students who could be connected are not connected, and a recent report from New America shows that many more are underconnected, with insufficient and unreliable access to the internet and to internet-connected devices. In fact, 65% of US families surveyed said their children couldn’t fully participate in remote learning because they lacked access to a computer or internet. The families most likely to lack sufficient internet bandwidth and devices? Black and Hispanic families and families living below the federal poverty line: n

  • Among families who have broadband home internet service:
    • 56 percent say their service is too slow.
    • 18 percent say their service has been cut off at least once in the past 12 months due to trouble paying for it.
  • Among those who only have internet access via a smartphone or tablet (mobile-only access):
    • 34 percent say they hit the data limits in their plan at least once in the past year, preventing them from being consistently connected to the internet.
    • 28 percent say they have a hard time getting as much time on devices as they need, because too many people are sharing them.
    • 16 percent say their mobile phone service has been cut off at least once during the past year because they could not pay for it.
  • Among those with a computer at home:
    • 59 percent say it does not work properly or runs too slowly.
    • 22 percent say it is hard to get time on it because there are too many people sharing it.
  • The proportion of lower-income families who are under-connected hardly changed at all between 2015 and 2021—despite large increases in rates of home broadband and computer access.
  • Learning at Home While Under-connected: Lower-Income Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic, New America

This brief scan of articles published this year exposes the depth of problems as well as some of the solutions that are already being pursued. But the critical questions remains: if we can’t or won’t adequately pursue problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

if we can’t or won’t pursue the problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

Documenting the challenges:

An Education System, Divided: How Internet Inequity Persisted Through 4 Presidents and Left Schools Unprepared for the Pandemic, the 74

The Digital Divide Has Narrowed, But 12 Million Students Are Still Disconnected, EdSurge

“In a patchwork approach born of desperation, they scrounged wireless hot spots, struck deals with cable companies and even created networks of their own. With federal relief money and assistance from state governments and philanthropists, they have helped millions of students get online for distance learning”

‘Big Burden’ for Schools Trying to Give Kids Internet Access, Education Week

Nearly a Year Into Remote Learning ‘Digital Divide’ Persists as Key Educational Threat, as Census Data Show 1 in 3 Households Still Struggling With Limited Tech Access, The 74

Millions of Students Are Still Without WiFi and Tech—Why Haven’t Policymakers Stepped Up?, EdSurge

“’We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders,’ said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, who noted that his company is currently part of hundreds of K-12 agreements. ‘No single company can fix this with a flip of the switch.’ …As a result, districts are scrambling to figure out what happens next.”

Millions of Students Got Free Home Internet for Remote Learning. How Long Will It Last?, Education Week

S.C. Department of Education to shut down hotspots over the summer, WRDW

Broadband Mapping Across the US: Local, State, And Federal Methods & Contradictions, Next Century Cities

Student Home Connectivity Study, CoSN

Broadband Data and Mapping: Background and Issues for the 117 th Congress, Congressional Research Service

The wires may be there, but the dollars aren’t: Analysis shows why millions of California students lack broadband, CalMatters

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