Millions of students do not have access to adequate connectivity, but Black, Latinx, and Native children are disproportionately impacted by the “homework gap." One study found that children in one out of every three Black, Latinx, and Native American households did not have broadband access at home. These disparities are even more pressing during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has turned the homework gap into a chasm.
Yesterday in an announcement via livestream, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton County Schools, and the fiber arm of municipal utility Electric Power Board (EPB) announced a partnership to provide free Internet access and hardware to the 17,700 homes with school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the county. Called HCS EdConnect, the initiative will be the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.
Yesterday, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act, a bill which ends the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) practice of selling wireless spectrum rights on the lands of Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and grants ownership, management, and governance of all spectrum to those groups in perpetuity. The bill also calls for the creation of an FCC fund to support broadband efforts, an advisory team to provide regulatory and technical assistance, and a data collection program to support future connectivity efforts in those communities. It represents a dramatic new approach to addressing the digital divide in Tribal communities, which remain among the least well-connected of all across the United States today.
July has seen the release of two complementary reports which shed light on two of the topics we care about a great deal around these parts: availability and affordability of Internet access, and municipally-enabled networks.