Equity & Diversity

Why Helping Families Access the Internet Is So Challenging

By Mark Lieberman — May 26, 2020 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Internet access remains out of reach for millions of homes across America, but federal officials don’t agree on the scale of the problem, and local regulations may impede rapid broadband adoption.

The Federal Communications Commission currently estimates that more than 94 percent of Americans have high-speed Internet access, but those numbers are likely inflated, member Jessica Rosenworcel told the Wall Street Journal this week. Companies that offer Internet access to a single home within a given geographic region are required to report that they offer access to that entire region.

Rosenworcel is pushing for the commission to locate more accurate figures.

In the meantime, she wants the agency to halt plans to give $16 billion to internet companies this fall. Those funds are designed to help improve rural internet service, but Rosenworcel worries that they’ll be misplaced without a fully formed picture of the country’s internet access landscape.

FCC chair Ajit Pai, on the other hand, believes continuing to give the companies the money is the best approach to start addressing access gaps. “Do we help them now, or do we delay relief until we can determine who else needs help, too? To me, rural America has waited long enough,” he said in a statement to the Journal.

Meanwhile, schools and local governments in several states are unable to provide internet access to families due to burdensome regulations that can be traced back to broadband companies’ lobbying efforts, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

In Virginia, local governments can’t charge lower rates for internet service than broadband companies serving the area. Other regulations require that municipalities demonstrate that they’ll be able to generate profit from offering internet service, and prohibit governments from subsidizing internet service user fees.

The Post points to a 2020 Broadband Now study showing that states with fewer legislative obstacles to government-provided internet service tend to have more widespread internet availability and lower prices for customers.

An EdWeek Research Center survey this spring revealed that districts with a high percentage of low-income students are significantly more likely to have students without home internet access. With restrictions on directly offering internet services, local governments and schools have turned to stopgap measures like purchasing WiFi hotspots, offering buses and school parking lots as depots for students and teachers to access the internet, and distributing hard-copy packets and other non-digital instruction to students who need it.

Some advocates have called for schools to pay for teachers’ at-home internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many school budgets are already stretched thin, and likely to face further cuts during the ongoing economic downturn. Education technology groups are calling for $5 billion from Congress to address internet access gaps, and 39 states attorney general earlier this month urged Congress to help expand access nationwide.

Thus far, House Democrats have passed a bill that would provide $24 million (see page 39) to the FCC for expanding internet access. The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to take up that version of the bill.


Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Illustrations.
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty