The tools exist to bridge the digital divide in rural communities – now government, educators and tech companies must work together to drive quality programs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light two major problems with the current American public education system: a significant digital divide is causing many students to fall behind because they lack adequate internet access, and many schools and communities don’t have enough resources to fix it. problem effectively.
Despite these issues, online learning continues to be incorporated into lesson plans, even as schools have resumed in-person classes. This means that if many students’ lack of internet access is not addressed, the digital divide will continue to widen.
Fortunately, next-generation Internet services provided by local governments, utilities, electric cooperatives, and tribal governments offer cost-effective and reliable alternatives to traditional for-profit Internet service providers. When a familiar local entity provides high-speed Internet service, it offers people the opportunity to “shop local” and support a sense of community for a necessity that large corporations have primarily provided.
As many as 12 million K-12 public school students across the country are caught in the digital divide, lacking adequate internet connectivity or the appropriate devices to participate in online education.
Impacts of the digital divide on education
Up to 12 million K-12 public school students across the country are caught in the digital divide, according to a 2021 report by Boston Consulting Group, Common Sense Media, and the Southern Education Foundation. lacking adequate internet connectivity or appropriate devices to participate. in online education.
To understand what this means, consider a study from Michigan State University (https://tinyurl.com/98j38a4k), which found that middle and high school students with faster, more reliable home internet had a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.18. . In contrast, those without internet access had a GPA of 2.81. While this is only about a 0.4 difference, it’s bigger than it looks.
A University of Miami study found that a one-point increase in high school GPA increases annual earnings by about 12% for men and 14% for women. According to these figures, a 0.4 point lower GPA could result in a loss of annual income in adulthood of about 5%, which, according to the Boston Consulting Group study, would result in an annual loss of 22 to 33 billions of dollars in gross domestic product (GDP) and would lead to a decline. tax contributions and higher public spending.
Benefits of Broadband for Education
The integration of broadband infrastructure as a service provided by local governments or utilities means that everyone can access fast, reliable internet at an affordable rate. This means that more students will be able to participate in online courses in general and will be able to:
- access online education modules after school
- manage assignments that require internet access
- access the research needed for larger projects
- explore topics of interest at their own pace
- learn the computer skills needed to get a job in the future.
Students who may not yet have the devices to connect to a high-speed fiber network can reap its benefits in other ways, such as faster access to computers in public libraries.
Access to network professionals who offer turnkey services will help accelerate the planning and implementation of a fiber optic backbone for a city.
Once a municipality, utility, or co-op has decided to build their broadband infrastructure, it’s time to put financing in place for the project. The federal government has dedicated funding for broadband through legislation, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 (CARES), the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 and the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act of 2021.
This funding is prioritized to help unserved and underserved areas and areas without affordable or reliable broadband. It supports connecting anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, and higher education institutions, among other community support organizations, to bridge the digital divide in education.
Chesapeake, Virginia begins building a community fiber optic network
The city of Chesapeake, Va., began building the Chesapeake Connects fiber network in September. Its partner in the project is Magellan, a Denver-based company offering broadband and telecommunications planning, deployment and management services, from project design and engineering to implementation and continuation. operations. Over the past three years, the city and Magellan have partnered to plan and design the network, which spans 160 miles and connects more than 200 local government sites. A few factors prompted the city to undertake the project, including the fact that its growing capacity needs could not be met by current network solutions which were inefficient and expensive. The city has conducted a master planning process to consolidate schools, libraries, and all city, utility, public safety, traffic, and behavioral health sites into a single network that will operate under the name of Chesapeake Connects, a company in the city of Chesapeake.
Magellan will provide turnkey project management, construction management and construction inspection services, overseeing day-to-day construction activities as the owner’s representative for the city as construction proceeds over the course of 24 to next 30 months. The city will initially deploy the network internally to connect its facilities and sites. Chesapeake ultimately plans to work with service providers and enable them to access the web to complete last-mile distribution projects in areas with unserved and underserved households.
Chase Gregory is a senior partner at NSG Consulting. He can be contacted at [email protected]