Innovations in Education: Internet access is a basic necessity | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Innovations in Education: Internet access is a basic necessity

This week on Innovation in Education, we focused on the need for universal broadband internet access in Kentucky. Three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, having a stable internet connection to the world outside our homes has proven to be vital to our economy, our education system, and our way of life. Unfortunately, Kentucky ranks 44th in the nation for broadband access, and many citizens either can’t afford it or live in rural areas where it is not available.

Innovations in Education: Universal Broadband Access

Wednesday at 3 p.m. we'll be discussing the need for broadband internet access for all Kentuckians!

Posted by Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

In May, along with 14 other Kentucky-based organizations, The Prichard Committee sent a letter to Kentucky’s Congressional delegation calling for federal funding to make universal internet access available in rural areas and to low-income citizens. We’ve also hosted a social media campaign asking Kentuckians to send their own letters to Congress – resulting in nearly 370 messages being sent.

Prichard Committee President & CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey led the following panelists in a robust discussion about broadband equity Wednesday:

  • Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.
  • Peter Hille, president of Mountain Association of Community Economic Development.
  • Mary Gwen Wheeler is the executive director of 55,000 Degrees.
  • Mark Haney is president of Kentucky Farm Bureau and a farmer in Pulaski County.

“We’ve equated the issue of broadband and computer access to be as important as access to plumbing and electricity was at the turn of the 20th century,” said Ramsey, who pointed to a recent report by the University of Kentucky that rated internet access in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties. The data profiles explore the dynamics of a community’s access to broadband, and the ability of our communities to use broadband technology – the two components that help us understand if a “digital divide” exists. According to the report 75 of 120 counties have a high digital divide.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lee Rainie said about 10 percent of adults in the U.S. don’t use the internet at all, and about a quarter of Americans don’t have internet access. About 17% of Americans rely solely on their mobile phones for internet access. Kentucky follows closely with that national trend. He predicts that by 2025, all Americans will be internet users.
  • Mary Gwen Wheeler said the three basic components of the challenge for schools during the pandemic are access to online devices, internet connectivity and quality of instruction. The statistics in Louisville, despite the urban setting, follow national and state trends because of the high number of students from low-income families – about 26% percent of families had no digital access. The Louisville school system distributed over 20,000 laptop computers and some wi-fi hotspots.
  • Peter Hille and his group, MACED, have called for providers to give free access to Kentuckians throughout the pandemic. “We need to think differently about what internet access means and what equity means when internet is so central to all of our lives,” said Hille. Higher poverty rates in eastern Kentucky and rural areas bring up the challenge of infrastructure. He added that counties need access in the “last mile” of the region, not just in a county seat.
  • Mark Haney said “buy local” initiatives are making online connectivity crucial for farmers to stay in business. He also said Farm Bureau offices across the state offer free wi-fi access to citizens in the parking lots of all of their properties.

The rise of 5G internet will undoubtedly increase connectivity in the years to come, but in the short term, there must be a better way for all citizens to be connected so they can work, learn and safely participate in the economy. Please let your Congressional representatives know that internet access is a necessity.

Next time on Innovations in Education:

Next week’s episode of Innovation in Education will focus on formulating solutions on how to close the widening achievement gap between African American students and their peers at the state and local levels.  Panelists will include Dr. Aaron Thompson of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and Dr. Soraya Matthews, Fayette County Public Schools. Watch live Wednesday, June 24 at 3 p.m.

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