September 23, 2021
Ensuring Equity for Broadband Access in K-12
Wi-Fi and internet access are a necessity for supporting the education of all students.
The pandemic changed many things within K-12 education. But one thing that did not change is the ongoing challenge of providing adequate broadband access to all students. This was an issue before COVID-19, and the pandemic has only brought more into focus how important universal broadband is for education.
I recently talked about the topic of broadband on the Focus on K-12 podcast. In an episode with my guests, Dr. Emily Bell, the CIO for Georgia County Schools, and Dr. Keith Osburn, the CIO for the Georgia Department of Education, we talked about how they have approached tackling this issue and how it impacts both metropolitan and rural communities in the state.
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The Necessity of Broadband for Education
One takeaway I had from this conversation was that broadband is only going to grow as a problem that we need to address. Remote learning is going to have a larger presence in education moving forward. Because of this, access to Wi-Fi and the internet for learning are must-haves for all students – it’s a necessity to support educational equity among all students that our schools serve.
The struggle has always been how do we make sure that our underserved communities are given adequate and reasonably priced access to broadband to enable this educational need. There are many players involved in this – the internet providers and carriers, private companies, the federal government, local government, education districts and non-government organizations. Dr. Bell and Dr. Osburn discussed how there have been many approaches to tackling broadband among all these players.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund
Earlier this summer, the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) offered funding to schools, libraries and consortiums to help them provide the tools and services that their communities need to support remote learning during the COVID-19 emergency period. This funding supported the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, tablets and broadband service by the schools and libraries. A new ECF application window opens on September 28, 2021, extending this funding opportunity for schools and libraries into the fall and the rest of the year.
Public and Private Partnerships for Broadband Access
Looking beyond the FCC funding, Dr. Bell and Dr. Osburn ticked off several examples where combinations of both public and private organizations across the country have been working to extend access to broadband to more underserved communities in support of greater educational equity. Typically, these efforts have been organized and driven at the district level. All of this cooperation is great to see, and it underscores the recognition that this is a social issue and that every stakeholder in our communities has a role to play in helping support the education of all its students.
Broadband: An Education Necessity
Dr. Bell made one final point in our conversation that has stuck with me. She mentioned how many internet carriers have been offering discounts to financially disadvantaged households that have students in need of access to the internet for education purposes. She pointed out that this kind of limited support is not enough of an enticement for families having to make hard choices about food and shelter. What is needed is recognition that internet access is now a basic need in our country, and that access should be freely available to all families with students in school. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Bell’s point on this.
Doug Konopelko is a K-12 business development strategist for CDW. He is also the host of CDW’s Focus on K-12 podcast and has worked in education for more than 14 years.