Education and the Digital Divide

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, September 20, 2019

Weekly Digest

Education and the Digital Divide

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society's Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of September 16-20, 2019

Kevin Taglang

Two publications released this week have us thinking about the impact the digital divide has on education, schools, and students. In many schools around the country, teachers might be able to take for granted that their students have access to the internet outside of school. Unfortunately, for too many students, that just isn't true. The resulting "Homework Gap" is expanding inequity. 

Teachers and the Digital Divide

Common Sense Media surveyed K-12 teachers about the use of educational technology with students in their classrooms. Five key issues  emerged:

Title 1 schools have the highest concentrations of student poverty

  1. 12 percent of teachers reported that the majority of their students (61-100 percent) do not have home access to the internet or a computer. Approximately 4 out of 10 teachers said that many of their students do not have adequate home access to the internet or a computer to do schoolwork at home. (see Figure 1)
  2. Teachers in Title I schools (schools with the highest concentrations of poverty) and in schools with more than three-quarters of students being students of color are more likely to say that over 60 percent of their students do not have home access to the internet or a computer.
  3. As grade levels increase, teachers are more likely to assign homework that requires access to digital devices and/or broadband internet outside of schools.
  4. Teachers who assign homework that requires access to digital devices and/or broadband internet outside of school are more likely to teach in affluent, non-Title I schools than in Title I schools.
  5. Teachers in schools with student populations of predominantly students of color are more likely to say that it would limit their students’ learning if their students did not have adequate access to broadband internet or a computing device at home to do homework (34 percent), as compared to teachers in schools with mixed populations or teachers in schools with predominantly white students (26 and 27 percent, respectively).
Teacher survey on student broadband access
From: The Homework Gap:
Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide

To close these gaps, Common Sense Media says, all students need robust broadband access. The group offered a number of recommendations to reach this goal:

Affordable broadband access for every student

  • Spur local efforts to build and extend the use of community broadband infrastructure.
  • Develop institutional networks that connect municipal facilities that include schools, first responders, utility locations, city halls, libraries, and more with a fiber network.
  • Allow for open access use of broadband infrastructure.
  • Support Dig Once policies that speed up internet deployment by allowing broadband fiber and conduits to be installed during road construction projects.
  • Fund statewide and nationwide broadband mapping that tracks data important to homework gap policies (school access, home access, cost, speeds, quality, equipment, and uses).
  •  Ensure that state and federal Lifeline programs include broadband as a supported service and increase the level of subsidy for participants.

Allow schools, libraries, and community broadband organizations to help solve the homework gap

  • Clarify or add language to state and federal E-rate programs that allow for innovative off-campus and after-hours use of broadband capacity for students.
  • Encourage collaborative efforts to connect schools with community networks and public housing.
  • Create or add programs to state and federal E-rate programs that provide anchor institutions with funding for equipment, administrative implementation, and infrastructure for innovative off-campus or after-hours broadband use. 
  • Support the expansion of state and federal E-rate programs to ensure more schools and libraries have access to funds for broadband infrastructure.
  • Economic development plans at the state and federal level should include digital equity planning: programs for broadband mapping, for deployment of open-access infrastructure, for broadband subscription subsidies, for low-cost or free equipment, and for funds for institutions that provide training and support.

FCC Considers Changes to Program that Supports Broadband Connections for Schools

Former Brookings Research Analyst Joshua Bleiberg raised concerns this week about possible rules changes at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that could impact students and their access to the internet. The FCC's E-Rate is one of four programs supported by the Universal Service Fund (USF). The FCC has proposed capping USF annual spending and determining "the most efficient and responsible use of these federal funds." 

The E-Rate program subsidizes the cost of telecommunications and broadband internet access services—as well as internal connections—for schools and libraries. Each year, the FCC provides nearly $4 billion in subsidies. Schools must apply to receive these funds and E-Rate covers between 20% to 90% of a school district’s expenses. (School districts with greater numbers of impoverished and rural students may receive more support.)

Any cuts to the E-Rate, Bleiberg writes, could directly influence a school’s ability to afford internet access, resulting in slower connections. Instead, Bleiberg recommends policymakers adopt two goals. First, protect the dramatic increases in school internet access speeds that have occurred over the past five years. Second, state and federal policymakers should strive to protect the success of E-Rate and target the few remaining districts with very slow internet connections.

"The E-Rate program benefits partners in all sectors (schools and internet service providers), and the FCC should continue this successful policy rather than changing course and risking recent gains in school internet speeds."

On September 19, 30 U.S. senators, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking the agency to "discard any plans for setting an overall cap for the Universal Service Fund (USF) programs."

"Such a proposal would harm broadband deployment, rural health care opportunities, classroom learning, and life-long learning through public libraries by forcing them to compete in order to receive necessary funds," the senators said. "The USF programs have been key to moving the country toward the goal of universal connectivity throughout America and placing an overall cap on the USF programs would threaten this necessary progress." 

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

This week, the Benton Foundation officially became the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, elevating our focus of ensuring that the benefits of advanced broadband networks are felt in every corner of the country—including every school and library!

“All Americans should have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. In the Digital Age, open, affordable, robust broadband is essential for enabling all of us to reach for—and achieve—the American Dream,” said Benton Executive Director Adrianne Furniss. “Our new name squarely reflects our accelerating efforts to advance policies that help ensure broadband opportunities for everyone.” 

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey. We'll see you in the Headlines

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

National Tribal Broadband Summit

Monday, September 23, 2019 - 8:00am to Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 4:30pm

Department of Interior

Disability Advisory Committee Meeting

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 9:00am

Federal Communications Commission

Impact Awards

Tuesday, September 24, 2019 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm

National Hispanic Media Coalition

September 2019 FCC Commission Meeting

Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 10:30am to 12:30pm

Federal Communications Commission


Nevada Broadband Workshop

Friday, September 27, 2019 - 8:30am to 3:30pm

National Telecommunications and Information Administration



The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.