Dive Brief:

  • Nationwide, 67% of K-12 schools still lack the recommended internet connectivity speed of 1 megabits per second per student, according to a report by Connected Nation. That digital learning gap affects 31.5 million students.
  • The good news is median bandwidth per student has grown by 37.6% in the past year, and the cost of providing it dropped by 18%. Since 2015, connectivity has increased nearly five-fold, and the median cost per megabit has dropped by 84%.
  • Digital learning is expected to continue to expand, and districts that meet or exceed the 1 mbps per student goal will have fewer network capacity bottlenecks brought about by the introduction of more devices, the report says. 

Dive Insight:

While organizations such as Connect K-12 and Education Superhighway help connect students in classrooms, the need for distance learning due to the novel coronavirus pandemic has exposed the depth of the digital divide that drives the homework gap. To help with aligning these resources and services, Connected Nation’s website breaks down each district’s internet service providers and costs.

Though stakeholders have been pushing to connect more kids at home during the coronavirus pandemic, connectivity gaps continue. As recently as October, 300,000 to 1 million California students remained disconnected from school by either a lack of a device or weak broadband.

While most homes’ broadband can handle some video calls, many don’t have the network capacity for multiple children to be connected at once. Nationally, 16.9 million students fall into the homework gap, and 36% of those living in rural areas lack connectivity. The highest impact is on American Indian/Alaska Native students, who make up 34% of those without a connection, followed by Black (31%) and Latino (21%) students.

Rural areas’ unique issues often make broadband connection difficult, and hotspots won’t work in some districts, such as Tennessee’s Polk County School District, where some areas lack cellular towers. According a report by the National 4-H Council and Microsoft, 20% of teenagers live in rural areas without high-speed broadband internet, and 50% say they struggle to do homework for that reason.

To overcome the challenge, some districts are teaming up with private businesses in creative ways. For example, Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas, is partnering with SpaceX to transmit high-speed, low-latency internet access to some students’ homes via the company’s Starlink satellite system. The service will launch in early 2021 with 45 families who live in remote areas and have no internet options.

The program won’t solve all the district’s connectivity problems, however. It is still working to provide internet access to families who live within cable service areas and is also distributing hotspots to those who live near cellular towers.

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