Capito and Broadband Caucus seek ways to bridge 'homework gap'

WASHINGTON — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., continued her effort to expand broadband coverage for rural areas Tuesday, taking part in a press conference and panel discussion about addressing the “homework gap” many rural students face when they get out of school.

“Just because we live in rural areas doesn’t mean we should settle for less,” Capito said.

Capito said many West Virginia students are assigned homework at school, then can’t get on the internet at home to work on it.

Jessica Rosenworcel, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, told senators, journalists and panelists that seven out of 10 schools in the United States assign homework that requires the use of the internet to complete. But she said one in three students doesn’t have internet access at home.

Parts of the country with scanty internet coverage have come up with different ways to deal with this “homework gap.”

Rosenworcel said some students have resorted to doing their homework at fast-food restaurants with wireless internet connections; some schools are sending wireless hotspots home with students; and some students are doing their homework outside their schools in the middle of the night to take advantage of the school’s internet service.

Then there are some school systems equipping school buses with wireless internet and leaving them parked around their counties so students can access the internet.

Capito and other members of the Senate Broadband Caucus — a group of 19 senators fighting for better broadband coverage for underserved areas of the country — met Tuesday for the press conference and panel discussion. All agreed there is no single answer for getting internet coverage to students who need it.

“(The need for broadband) is absolutely analogous to electricity in the ’30s and highways in the 1800s,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “There is no silver bullet, but there is often silver buckshot.”

Maine has similar challenges to West Virginia in getting internet service to rural areas. Susan Corbett, CEO of internet provider Axiom Technologies, said it takes four hours to drive across Wayne County, Maine, but the county has only two traffic lights.

“We’re rural,” she said.

Expanding broadband service in rural Maine has required using different technologies to bring service to residents affordably.

“We use anything it takes to get a connection,” Corbett said.

She said some of the libraries in Wayne County have wireless hot spots they can loan out to students.

But, she said, “there are not enough libraries that have them.”

Educators around the country have relied heavily on the FCC’s E-Rate grant programs to help pay for internet service in schools. But even areas of the country that are well-served by broadband can’t seem to find enough money for what they need to do.

A.J. Phillips, director of information technology services for the 90,000-student Prince William County school system in Virginia, said she is using E-Rate funding to upgrade internet speeds at the county’s 97 schools. But she said there isn’t enough money to do all the schools at once, and by the time she gets the last school upgraded, it will be time to start all over.

By:  Rusty Marks
Source: WVNews