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As schools and districts struggle to move beyond the pandemic, one thing has become clear – technology will be an integral part of students’ lives, whether students are physically in the classroom or learning at home.
But the growing reliance on technology is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, many more children now have facilities because almost every school in the country adopted a one-to-one program during the pandemic, said Evan Marwell, CEO and founder of the educational nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway, or ESH.
“The bad news is that because they did it, there’s only the assumption that anyone can use the technology,” said Marwell. Teachers are now assigning jobs that require internet access in the expectation that all children will be able to do so, he said, even though some children still do not have high-speed internet at home.
On October 12, EducationSuperHighway released its second No home offline a report that highlights the barriers that still stand in the way of internet access for millions of Americans and outlines what states need to do to help families connect to broadband.
In total, 51.6 million households are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). But only about a quarter of these farms are currently registered.
Since the group published its first report on the subject last fall, some progress has been made in improving internet access. Last November, the ESH reported that 28.2 million American households did not have access to the Internet because they simply could not afford it. The next day, Congress passed the cross-party infrastructure law, formally known as the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act. Legislation created Affordable Connectivity Programwhich extends the pandemic initiative that gave low-income households a discount on broadband services and certain devices.
“This program has an amazing opportunity to make significant progress in closing the digital divide,” said Marwell.
According to a new ESH report, the problem is that of 28.2 million households without high-speed Internet a year ago, 18 million are offline not because they lack infrastructure, but because they cannot afford the Internet. At least half of these 18 million households are families with school-age children, Marwell said. According to the report, they have disproportionately low incomes and are either Black or Hispanic / Latino.
Related: The affordability gap is the largest part of the digital divide
The Marwell Group strives to build awareness of the rebate program and help more families sign up. A total of 51.6 million households qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), including 17.7 million households that are completely disconnected. However, according to the report, only around a quarter of those eligible for the scheme – around 13 million households – are currently enrolled in the ACP countries.
“There is a problem with awareness; in many communities, less than 25 percent of people actually know about the program, ”said Marwell. “There is an issue of trust that runs through all government programs and programs that have historically been in this area.”
Another challenge is that the registration process takes a long time – 30 to 45 minutes on average – and is very confusing, Marwell said. Families, especially those that speak a language other than English, face many barriers. Most of the information about the program is available only onlineincluding application forms, and families who do not have any of the required documents may be rejected, even if they qualify for Benefit.
SuperHighway Education released a toolkit last month to help states, school districts and policymakers in reducing some of these barriers and reuniting families with an online discount program. There is a step-by-step guide that includes templates in several languages for family contact, training material for attorneys and best practices. The group also launched getacp.orgA site that helps families check their eligibility and tells them exactly what they need to enroll.
As part of the states’ effort to increase recruitment to the AKP, a cross-party group of 27 out of 50 state governors signed to commit ESH that broadband will be a priority in their states.
Meanwhile, the FCC has also seen the difficult struggle it has to face in helping more people enroll in the AKP and is taking steps to help. In August, a federal agency established a grant program to provide funding and other support to community organizations that help families enroll.
Most school states and districts recognize the need to make broadband a priority, Marwell said. Since the pandemic, “there has been a real shift in school districts saying, ‘This low-cost connectivity program is a sustainable program, and our families must enroll in it,” he said.
This story about improving internet access was compiled by The Hechinger Report, an independent non-profit organization dedicated to the issue of inequality and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger’s Bulletin
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