Millions of American students won't be heading back to the classroom this fall, at least not full time. From Los Angeles to New York, remote learning will continue into the fall. That leaves a staggering number of students at risk of falling behind or dropping out. Up to 30% of schoolchildren — as many as 16 million American kids — lack internet access or laptops for online learning. The digital divide has been with us for decades, and we're not going to solve it by August.
The past month has taught us that the internet is the one indispensable tool Americans have amidst this crisis. but at least 20 million American households are currently without home access to broadband internet, primarily because they can’t afford it. These are the families on the wrong side of the digital divide, the most vulnerable people in our society. Disproportionately they are older, poorer, and sicker than the “average” American. Congress should devise a long-term solution to our continuing digital divide, once and for all.
[Commentary] As young policy wonks in D.C.—one working for Clinton-Gore, the other urging non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to engage tech policy—we listened to tech innovators and leaders for social justice. As we look back over those years, we see how many who inspired us in the early days decided to head off in a different direction. What precisely happened?
[Commentary] In August, a ripple traversed the Internet when the White House posted an Instagram picture of our commander in chief just outside the Oval Office wearing a pair of virtual reality glasses. In the photo, President Barack Obama is trying out a virtual reality experience captured during his trip to Yosemite National Park and created by National Geographic, Felix & Paul Studios and Oculus, while an aide continues to work at her desk oblivious to the strange scene.
The striking image of the Leader of the Free World transporting himself to another corner of the country brought nearly 600,000 views of the 360-degree video tour, and captivated many more people with this amazing technology — but that virtual experience is just the tip of the iceberg for VR. Putting on a virtual reality helmet or visor unlocks new impactful ways to tell stories, play games, and educate children and adults. While the equipment is costly and clunky today, in a few years, a pair of glasses and headphones will more than suffice for a VR experience. Virtual reality has the power to transform every form of video media consumption, as long as policymakers enable high-speed broadband networks to keep pace; a sensible regulatory environment that helps investment and innovation flourish is crucial.
[Larry Irving served for almost seven years as assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information during the Clinton Administration and is president and CEO of the Irving Group. Jamal Simmons is co-chairman of the Washington, DC-based Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).]