Dive Brief:

  • According to new poll from the Internet Innovation Alliance and Morning Consult, 95% of U.S. voters view the lack of home broadband internet access that impedes remote learning for an estimated 12 to 15 million students, based on separate estimates by the Senate Joint Economic Committee and Common Sense Media, as a problem that needs to be addressed.
  • The results, based on a sample of 1,938 registered voters, also show that 91% view the lack of broadband access in rural areas as a problem, with two out of three considering it a “major” problem.
  • Additionally, 90% support using federal funds to close the digital divide, and 62% want it done immediately. Another 88% support Congress creating new programs and providing more federal funding for existing programs that subsidize or provide free internet access to those who can’t afford it.

Dive Insight:

While the digital divide was a problem prior to the pandemic, the need for remote learning amid school shutdowns brought the issue to the forefront of discussions around equity in learning.

A report released this summer revealed 16.9 million U.S. students still lack home internet access, and 36% of those students live in rural areas. There are also 3.6 million households without a computer, which impacts academics for 7.3 million students.

The Deep South, where schools have some of the nation’s lowest levels of resources, was particularly hard hit during remote learning. Overall, less than one-third of rural districts required virtual instruction during coronavirus closures due to lack of broadband access

States are trying to close the digital gap through grants from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to purchase devices and provide internet access. The fund, passed as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, gives states flexibility in using the money for K-12 or higher education. Additional funds are being used from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which also allocated money that could be used to close the broadband gap.

After successfully connecting most schools to fast, reliable internet, the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway announced in May that it would turn its attention to the homework gap as momentum builds to provide internet access at home. DigitalbridgeK12.org provides information and gives recommendations on how policymakers and school leaders can collect data on connectivity and purchase devices in bulk.

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