In COVID-19 era, internet access is a basic necessity
Two months have passed since businesses and schools across the Commonwealth began shutting their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As educators and business began adapting, one thing became abundantly clear: the internet is as necessary as electricity and plumbing is for our daily lives. As social distancing becomes a matter of life and death, a connection to the world outside our homes is vital to our economy, our education system, and our way of life.
In 2017, census data showed that Kentucky ranks 44th in the nation for broadband access. Nearly 25 percent of our households do not have a subscription for high-speed internet, and more than 15 percent do not have a computer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among households without home internet, one-third say it simply is too expensive. In some rural parts of the state, high-quality internet connections can be hard to find, whether or not you have the funds to pay for it.
Kentucky’s congressional delegation has a powerful platform to advocate for all our families to have internet access, and they must do so with urgency. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, along with a coalition of education and business leaders from across the state, is encouraging members of Congress to fund home internet access in rural areas and for families who can’t afford an expensive monthly broadband payment. Schools and businesses may be closed, but we must ensure that all of Kentucky’s families have the tools they need to learn and earn online, during the pandemic and beyond.
One possible funding vehicle is the federal E-Rate program, which has historically made internet funding affordable for schools and libraries. The E-Rate program has also allowed Kentucky’s schools to upgrade their internal networks and provide students with Wi-Fi access in their classrooms. Funding for internet access could also come through another coronavirus relief package, similar to the CARES Act.
This issue effects all of us – both now and in the future. Having more Kentuckians who have internet access means more of our citizens can work remotely – having an immediate impact on our economy. Having more students with internet access means they will be better prepared for the jobs of the future. From being able to order food and retail products online, to the having the ability to work and learn at home, internet access is crucial.
Nearly a quarter of our Kentucky households do not have internet access – cutting families off from numerous opportunities that are abundant in the virtual space. This is simply unacceptable. As we navigate this increasingly digital “new normal,” families should not be left behind because they do not have internet access. All Kentucky families need to have the opportunity to live, work, and learn online so that we can all stay healthy at home.