The outbreak of COVID-19, known as the coronavirus has exposed problems the U.S has been sitting on for a long time. With the recent closures of schools across the country, educators are quickly learning that as they move toward a remote system to engage with their students during the quarantine, many do not have access to wireless internet at home.
It’s hard to imagine that in the age of popular platforms like TikTok and Instagram that there are young kids and adults with no internet access; for a large majority of low-income residents, that’s exactly the case. While the internet offers a lifeline for many to continue life as normal during this global pandemic, for others, it limits their movement even more. Depending on where you live, broadband may not be readily available to you. According to the FCC, more than 21 million Americans do not have access to high-speed Internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s latest data. The numbers have improved in recent years, though the gaps remain pervasive, despite heavy investment by government regulators and private companies.
“With coronavirus, we’re about to expose just how challenging our digital divide is, and just how unequal access to broadband is,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission, to The Washington Post. “We’re going to have a reckoning.”
A 2018 Pew Research study found that nearly one in five students between kindergarten and 12th grade do not have computers or speedy web connections. The research illustrated what is called a “homework gap” which disproportionately affects low-income families and people of color.
“There are still some pretty big gaps when it comes to broadband adoption,” said Monica Anderson, Pew’s associate director of research on the internet and technology to The Washington Post.
The FCC plans to offer a digital lifeline in attempts to close that divide during this viral outbreak with commitments from AT&T, Verizon, and dozens of internet providers to help people stay online, even if they ultimately fall behind on their bills.
“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.