Tag: "education"

Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

When school shut down past spring, Unit 4 schools in Champaign, Illinois scrambled to get students connected like everyone else. The district handed out Chromebooks and teachers went to work transitioning to online instruction so the school year could continue. But the district noticed that a large percentage of its students weren't logging on and the bulk of them came from Shadowwood mobile home park, where although fiber ran up and down every street in the neighborhood only one family subscribed to wireline Internet access. So Mark Toalson, the city’s IT Director, began making calls, and by the end of the summer a coalition came together to build Shadowwood’s students a free fixed wireless network which went online in August.

Fiber Just a Few Feet Away

The mobile home park sits on the north side of the town of 90,000, and is largely populated by Hispanic residents. Roughly 250 students who attend the Unit 4 school district live there, and according to Toalson not a single one had Internet access beyond personal mobile phones before they began last spring. In late May Mayor Deborah Feinen asked the city manager what could be done, and Toalson was asked to take on the project. 

Local circumstances make the Shadowwood Mobile Home Park a perfect case study in how efforts to bridge the digital divide need to tackle every facet of broadband gap to be successful. A $29 million grant in 2010 to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to the Urbana-Champaign-Savoy area meant that neighborhood had the infrastructure, but almost no one could afford the last-mile connection because of the high upfront costs. “We have fiber up and down every street in this trailer park, but they simply can’t afford to hook up to it,” city of Champaign Director of Information Technology Mark Toalson remarked in an interview. i3 Broadband, which owns and operates the infrastructure, normally costs $56/month (both in Shadowwood and without) and has been offering a $30 discount during the pandemic. It's a generous move, but moot for families who can’t pay to connect to the infrastructure sitting just below the street, a handful of steps away. So most of Shadowwood’s...

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Posted September 8, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

A new report out by North Carolina's Broadband and Infrastructure Office looks at the ways that broadband and telehealth can solve some of the disparities that disproportionately affect tens of thousands of its citizens living in the western fifth of the state. These “coal-impacted communities,” it argues, would benefit greatly across a host of interventions which would be facilitated by investment in wireline broadband infrastructure, technical assistance, and digital literacy programs. If implemented, they would increase access to medical doctors and mental health professionals for all North Carolinians, eliminate barriers related to transportation, reduce state healthcare costs, increase the speed of intervention and reduce the time to diagnosis, and eliminate unnecessary hospital and emergency room admissions.

Healthcare in the High Country

"Carolina Crosscut: Broadband and Telehealth in North Carolina's Appalchain Coal-Impacted Communities" [pdf] comes out of a $100,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant given to the Office of Broadband Infrastructure and the Office of Rural Development for two purposes: to figure out broadband availability and adoption as they relate to health disparities across the twenty-county region clustered along the state’s western border, and to map assets and come up with specific policy recommendations for state agencies and lawmakers.

These are North Carolina’s “coal-impacted” communities, which the report defines as those which exhibit a “generational dependence on coal extraction and related supply chains [which] has resulted in personal and community economic devastation.” To be clear and despite its title, the framing here is economic, and not based on the adverse health effects of working in coal extraction. It should also be noted that the economic impact described in the report surely extended beyond the twenty counties at the center of the study.

Carolina Crosscut collects and collates a plethora of data that should be useful to any number of groups moving forward. It maps broadband access, adoption, and speeds at the census tract level against a cluster of health...

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Posted August 4, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Millions of students do not have access to adequate connectivity, but Black, Latinx, and Native children are disproportionately impacted by the “homework gap” — a term that describes the divide between students with access to home broadband and Internet-enabled devices and those without, as well as the challenges that unconnected students face. 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. Schools across the country cancelled in-person instruction at the end of the last school year, and many continue to make plans for remote learning in the fall. As the nonprofit Common Sense pointed out in a recent report, “The ‘homework gap’ is no longer just about homework; it’s about access to education.”

School districts, cities, and states across the country are distributing hotspots, deploying wireless LTE networks, and paying for students’ Internet plans, among other efforts to quickly address the homework gap. However, many of these solutions are stopgap answers to a systemic problem.

UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Marguía said in a press release:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the impact of the digital divide on the academic progress of our students, particularly from low-income, Black, Latino, and American Indian households. Roadblocks, including internet connectivity and access to a computer or tablet, have denied students of color the opportunity to meaningfully engage in online learning, resulting in learning loss and widening achievement gaps . . . We cannot continue to overlook the disproportionate impact of this divide.

Mind the Gap

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is frequently credited with coining the term “...

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Posted July 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society,” wrote the New York Times Editorial Board in an opinion article published on Sunday. Yet, tens of millions of Americans still lack reliable access to broadband connectivity.

The Times editorial echoed the concerns of many digital equity advocates, who have been ringing alarm bells ever since the Covid-19 pandemic moved most aspects of everyday life online, cutting off anyone without a home Internet connection.

To help bridge the gap, many states and localities have deployed free Wi-Fi hotspots to schools, libraries, and other public spaces. But, as the Times points out, this is not enough — the federal government must do more to connect our communities. “[T]he coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service,” argued the editorial, pointing to legislation that would make an impact, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act.

Digital Divides Threaten Students’ Education

Inadequate Internet access isn’t only a problem in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure isn’t always available. Many city residents also lack home connectivity, due to the high cost of a subscription. The Times explained:

In urban areas, the struggle to get reliable or affordable Internet service disproportionately affects minorities. The cost of broadband makes it three times more likely that households without Internet service can be found in urban, rather than rural, environments, according to John B. Horrigan of the Technology Policy Institute.

In our transition to online everything, many people without broadband access have been left behind. This is particularly true for disconnected students, who must search out public Wi-Fi or forgo their...

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Posted May 19, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic pushed schools online, rural cooperatives and other local broadband providers have been coming up with innovative ways to connect students during this difficult time. Ozarks Electric Cooperative, with its broadband subsidiary OzarksGo, is one of the co-ops that caught our eye over the past few weeks with its creative solution.

This week, Christopher speaks with Steven Bandy, General Manager of OzarksGo, about the history of the co-op's fiber network and its new efforts to expand broadband access during the pandemic. They discuss the beginnings of Ozarks Electric's Fiber-to-the-Home network and the co-op's plan to connect all of its members in growing Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. OzarksGo has even expanded into a nearby city where it doesn't offer electric service after seeing that the community needed better quality connectivity. Co-op members are extremely enthusasitc about the co-op's fiber network, and Steven explains how people moving to the area target the Ozarks Electric service territory in their home search.

Christopher and Steven also talk about the effects of the pandemic on the co-op's fiber network, which has seen an increase in interest. Steven shares how the cooperative is partnering with a local school district to connect Wi-Fi hotspots on busses and in community buildings with fiber optic backhaul. In addition to bringing broadband access to students in response to Covid-19, OzarksGo has also increased speeds at no cost to subscribers.

This show is 19 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice ...

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Posted May 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In response to the increased reliance on connectivity precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature is working on legislation to improve access to broadband, online education, and telehealth services throughout the state.

The Senate passed their version of the bipartisan funding bill, SF 4494, earlier this week, and the House has two similar pieces of legislation, HF 1507 and HF 3029, currently under consideration. If the bills are passed and signed into law, there would be a total of $20 million to $27 million (depending on how the different versions are reconciled) available in grants to support distance learning, telemedicine programs, and broadband deployment. Bill authors designed the legislation to prioritize the use of federal money for the grant programs before pulling from the state’s general fund.

Broadband Bills in House and Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislation, SF 4494, on May 4 in a unanimous vote. Representatives in the House have rolled the grant programs into a larger coronavirus relief package that is under consideration, HF 1507. This is in addition to keeping a separate House bill with the broadband funding provisions, HF 3029, alive in case HF 1507 fails to pass.

The bills direct grant funding to three connectivity issues: connecting students for distance education, expanding access to telemedicine services, and deploying broadband networks in unserved areas. To facilitate online education during the pandemic, the bills would make $8 million (SF 4494 and HF 3029) or $15 million (HF 1507) available in grants to schools through the state Department of Education to fund the distribution of devices like hotspots and to reimburse the cost of...

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Posted April 23, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Across the country, schools have shifted to distance learning after the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread school closures and stay-at-home orders. But many students still can’t get online to learn. A recent survey of Los Angeles Schools found that 16 percent of students don’t have access to broadband and that 15 percent had not yet spoken with teachers.

To connect students on the wrong side of the digital divide, school districts in a number of cities, including Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California, are working with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for low-income families in need of home broadband connections during the crisis.

In a press release, Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, said of the program:

As we transition from a traditional brick and mortar school experience to one that takes place online, it is more important than ever that we make every effort to remain connected to our students who rely on us for not only academics, but also essential needs and social and emotional supports. . . This partnership will allow us to stay connected to our students who need us most.

Schools Sponsor Student Service

To help ensure all students can access online education while schools are closed, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to pay the monthly cost of Comcast’s Internet Essentials plan for eligible households. The school systems will distribute promotional codes to families who can then contact the company to sign up for broadband access at no cost.

SFUSD logo

Internet Essentials is Comcast’s affordable broadband plan for low-income households that qualify for a variety of public assistance programs. The program currently offers speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. In response to the...

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Posted April 22, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Schools across the country have moved instruction online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but many students are struggling to log in and learn. We’ve written before about how schools, libraries, and Internet access providers are taking steps to connect students with Wi-Fi hotspots. Still, many kids don’t have access to appropriate devices they can use to complete online schoolwork. According to PCs for People, a digital inclusion nonprofit and computer refurbisher, almost a quarter of students don’t have a computer.

To overcome that barrier, PCs for People partnered with Schoolclosures.org, GoFundMe, and Google Fiber to launch the Give Computers project, which will connect unused computers sitting in empty corporate offices with students in need. The initiative will refurbish computers and other devices donated by businesses and send them to eligible students. Details and donation information are available online.

Donation and Distribution Details

PCs for People and its partners will welcome donations from all businesses, from large corporations to small mom-and-pop shops, as well as from individuals. Accepted equipment includes working and non-working laptops, desktops, tablets, and computer accessories. PCs for People, which has an NAID AAA certification for data sanitization and R2 certification for e-waste recycling, will securely erase any data on the devices and restore the computers to operable condition, recycling any unusable devices or materials. More information is available in the Give Computers FAQ.

Submit an inquiry online if you wish to donate. PCs for People will help set up shipping or a free pickup for the equipment.

If your child or another student you know needs a device to complete online schoolwork and meets PCs for People’s eligibility guidelines, you can ...

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Posted March 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Visitors to libraries across the country are being greeted with signs declaring, “Library Closed,” in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But increasingly, those words are followed by the ones seen outside Schlow Centre Region Library in State College, Pennsylvania: “Park for Free Wi-Fi.”

As the Covid-19 outbreak pushes almost all daily functions online, libraries, schools, and Internet service providers (ISPs) are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to their communities’ connectivity needs — especially those of students. Nationwide, these broadband first responders are working rapidly to open and deploy public Wi-Fi hotspots that families can access from the safety of their parked cars.

Even before the current crisis, the “homework gap” meant that 7 million school-age children did not have Internet access at home, hampering their ability to get an education. Now, the digital divide is being thrown into even starker relief, as students struggle to access online classes and school districts grapple with equity concerns.

Though it isn’t a permanent solution to the homework gap, these community institutions and providers hope that the emergency Wi-Fi access will give students on the wrong side of the divide a chance to learn while schools are shut down.

Students Trade Desks for Cars

Earlier this week, the American Library Association (ALA) recommended that libraries leave their Wi-Fi turned on and accessible while facilities are closed. In a press release, ALA stated:

America’s 16,557 public library locations are essential nodes in our nation’s digital safety net . . . The COVID-19 Pandemic is disrupting this safety net and spotlighting the persistent digital gaps for more than 20 million people in the United States, including millions of school-age children and college students...

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Posted March 20, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

“While most of us take a high-speed Internet connection for granted, many living in rural areas feel disconnected,” states North Carolina television station WRAL’s new documentary, “Disconnected,” which first aired on March 19.

The documentary features local officials, healthcare professionals, small business owners, and families from across the state discussing the importance of high-quality broadband access and the struggle to connect rural areas. Though “Disconnected” was recorded before the Covid-19 outbreak forced schools and businesses to close nationally, the ongoing crisis further emphasizes the necessity of getting all North Carolinians connected to affordable, reliable Internet access.

“Disconnected” was created with help from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and Google Fiber. Watch the documentary below or on the WRAL website.

A Tale of Two Cities

To illustrate the importance of connectivity for everything from education to healthcare, “Disconnected” takes viewers to two small North Carolina towns — one with high-speed Internet access and one without.

Enfield NC

In Enfield, home to 2,300 people, businesses and residents alike struggle to get connected, and town officials face difficulties attracting new employers to the area. Enfield Middle S.T.E.A.M. Academy reports that about 60 percent of students don’t have Internet access at home. WRAL interviews one student’s family, which only has unreliable satellite connectivity. “It’s a lot of running around,” says Lashawnda Silver, the student’s mother. “If I don’t provide it for her, she’s going to lose out.”

Similarly, an Enfield health clinic says that most patients aren’t able to connect at home and even 40 percent of staff lack home broadband access. “It’s a barrier for their healthcare,” explains Mary Downey, Family Nurse Practitioner.

The city of Wilson is less than an hour south of Enfield, but it’s a world apart in terms of connectivity. Wilson's 49,000 residents have access to gigabit speeds over the city's reliable fiber network, Greenlight. We’ve...

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