The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide a great deal of help to address a need that was exposed during this pandemic, access to the internet for remote and poor areas.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for Broadband technology for work, school, and health resources. Broadband technology is defined as a “high-capacity transmission technique using a wide range of frequencies, which enables a large number of messages to be communicated simultaneously” which can be a computer, laptop, or tablet. Individuals in isolated, rural, and highly populated, urban communities have suffered through the shift to remote learning and working.
According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making, 11.45% of students in rural communities lack adequate technology for schoolwork. Pew Research found that 24% of rural Americans say access to high-speed internet is a major problem in their community, regardless of income. Furthermore, African American, and Native American rural communities have the highest percentage of individuals without internet access. Lack of technology or internet leads to a “homework gap”; students are unable to complete schoolwork and inevitably fall behind in their education. It is also important to note that rural communities are less likely to have multiple devices, so parents must choose between working remotely on their device or letting their child use their device for school.
Click here for an interactive map of the digital divide. You can add in your zip code or examine parts of the country and see how connected rural and urban America are now.
Due to the rise of remote learning in the past 2 years, many school districts are trying to remedy the disparities that exist for their students. In response to these inequities, the President’s infrastructure package will provide some significant investment with $65 billion in America’s broadband infrastructure. There could be additional support through the Build Back Better reconciliation. This would allow school district to repair, and modernized outdated school buildings, and provide funding to schools with the greatest need. Additionally, the Department of Education created through the CARES Act funding to support remote learning. The Department received $30.75 billion, to support technological capacity and access – this includes hardware and software. Some examples of grant programs that were created through the CARES Act are the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.
The just passed infrastructure legislation will provide $42 billion to states to help address access including the collection of data and information to determine needs. Another $14 billion is for $30 monthly vouchers to access internet services (this replaces some earlier pandemic funding for $50 vouchers). There are also some specific allocations to assist seniors, improve access in tribal lands and some financing of projects.
Inequities between rural, urban, and Suburban schools have been a focus at the state and federal level. The Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology highlights the 2017 National Education Technology Plan (NETP). Focusing on an increased use of technology to create accessibility and a more equitable learning space, NETP (2017) is a comprehensive plan that emphasizes the importance of technology for educators and applied methods of technology use. Additionally, this plan acknowledges the severe need for infrastructure and
demand for high-speed broadband network for all educational regions. In partnership with the original American Jobs Plan, there is a proposed $2 trillion allocation towards broadband infrastructure and monthly subscription subsides. While NETP’s continuous progress towards a technology teaching model will benefit many STEM focused curriculum, federal and state funding is what stands between this accessibility.
Other resources: https://www.americanprogress.org/article/rural-broadband-investments-promote-inclusive-economy/ or https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/even-pandemic-students-limited-technology-access-lagged-behind-their-peers