Getting Connected is Still A Matter of Degrees

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 37 percent of Americans without a high school diploma are connected with home broadband Internet compared to 89 percent of Americans with a college degree. We need to rethink broadband in America as we consider modernization of the E-rate program.

If you are reading this article, you are in the 70 percent of Americans that are most likely to be connected to the Internet. In the year 2013, we still have a digital equity gap in Americans connected to the new economy.

Pew’s findings also indicate that income disparity maps to the education attainment levels of Americans. Fifty-four percent of Americans earning less than $30,000/year have broadband at home compared to those earning more $50,000/year at 84 percent.

Interestingly, suburbia has the largest broadband connectivity at 73 percent, while rural America is 62 percent connected.

Why do these statistics matter?

At a high-level, these numbers are a direct reflection of the college and career readiness of our nation. As Americans attain higher levels of education, they have more career opportunities for income. The combination of education and income enable greater access to the new digital economy. Access to the digital economy  determines how much Americans pay for consumer goods or whether they can create income through the Internet. For students, it is also a reflection of whether they have the opportunity to connect to rich teaching and learning resources when they are away from school.

Mastery in education is fundamentally a matter of time for practice. As more schools move to modernize education, the time spent in and out of the classroom practicing in a digital, connected experience will have an impact on competency development and mastery. Moreover, I fully expect to see a difference in the assessment performance of students with home broadband connectivity and those without. Why? The students with broadband connectivity will have had more time to practice teaching, learning, and assessing in a connected context.

Granted, it is incumbent upon educators to create rich experiences that benefit from connected practice. Also, it is necessary to consider how to develop parity in practice when there is inequity in connectivity. The transformation of education will happen at a different pace for each region of the country until we can increase broadband penetration.

In fact, we are reaching a tipping point where communities will need to have access to the digital economy regardless of income or education attainment. These human-produced barriers do not help learners engage modern education experiences. If we want America to be more globally competitive, that responsibility cannot rest solely on the zip codes with high wealth and education.

I recognize that a lot of us use our smartphone or media tablets to connect to the Internet. According to Pew, that is only ten percent of the population. Moreover, the learning utility of mobile devices are not at the parity of fixed broadband connected PCs.

The FCC is currently accepting comments on modernizing the E-rate program for the 21st Century. As we think through where we are and where the program needs to go to reach our national broadband goals, both the speed/ubiquity of the connection and the utility of the connected devices will be important perspectives for education.

The last mile challenge has long been an issue in US education. We should all participate in commenting on the next iteration of E-rate to finally solve this 20 year-old problem.

Do not leave any comment below. Share this with your colleagues and go to the Modernizing E-rate website and get involved. You are already paying for it, you should have a say in the future of the program and how it will directly affect your students and community.

Modernizing E-rate Website