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Broadband Access - A Community Challenge

"The world is in the midst of a technology revolution. Broadband Internet has become central to the needs of our families, the health of our economy, and the vitality of our communities. But Kansas is falling behind other states, and the United States is falling behind other countries in the deployment of broadband Internet connectivity.

 

Kansas is a rural state with a population of 2.7 million people. That translates into about 33 people per square mile as compared to 79.6 people per square mile in the United States. In order to sustain and develop our state in the areas of health, education and economy, we need to ensure that every part of the state has outstanding broadband Internet access.

 

Treating high performance connectivity as another infrastructure element, similar to power, water or transportation, creates the proper context for discussion about broadband access."[1]

 

Figure 1: US ranks 21st in broadband deployment.

 

Access to broadband Internet service is as important as access to power, water or transportation. Broadband Internet access should be looked at as infrastructure that supports the local economy, ensuring quality education, equal opportunity for employment and open markets for products.

 

Of these benefits, one stands out as far more important than the others, education. Without a broadband Internet connection at home, modern students are at a disadvantage to their Internet connected peers.

Home Access

"Having a home computer has been associated with higher test scores in reading, even after controlling for family income, and other factors related to reading test scores. Still other findings indicate that participating in a networked community of learners improves educational outcomes for at-risk children."[2]

 

Students that come from under-privileged homes aren't part of these networked communities. "Only 37 percent of [children] from families with incomes less than $20,000 use computers at home, compared to 88 percent of those living in families with annual incomes over $75,000."

 

Students from homes with parents who have a lower level of education are also unlikely to use an Internet connected computer at home. "Approximately 82 percent of students from households where no parent has graduated from high school use computers and 37 percent of them use the Internet. In contrast, approximately 95 percent of students from households where at least one parent attended graduate school use computers and 73 percent of them use the Internet."[3]

Digital Divide

At this point in human history, the digital divide has become almost universally acknowledged. "There is a 'digital divide'. Computer and Internet use are divided along demographic and socioeconomic lines. Use of both technologies is higher among Whites than among Blacks and Hispanics."4 Students living with more highly educated parents are more likely to use these technologies than those living with less well educated parents, and those living in households with higher family incomes are more likely to use computers and the Internet than those living in lower income households." - (Emphasis by Original Author)

 

This digital divide is not out there in poor urban areas or restricted to rural communities, rather it exists right here in Lawrence. It is hard to think of a stronger endorsement of this idea than the recent groundbreaking launch of the "Lifeline" service by Sunflower Broadband. The problem must indeed be dire when large for-profit companies begin to launch free community services.

Racial Equality

One key factor in the availability of the Internet in a home is ethnicity. Among children, slightly more than half of all black and latino children have access to a home computer, and about 40 percent have Internet access at home. By comparison, 85.5 percent of white children have home computer access, and 77.4 percent can use the Internet at home.

 

"We are clearly not all a nation online," says Robert Fairlie, an associate professor of economics at UCSC, "Twenty million children in the United States, or 26 percent of children, have no computer access at home, and race is a key part of who's online and who isn't."5

 

Our community does a disservice to its minority members, propagating inequality, impeding access to education and reducing opportunities for the entire community by continuing to restrict Internet access to families with high levels of education and high incomes

Educational Use

The Internet is one of the most powerful educational tools ever conceived. With instant access to an ocean of information, broadband Internet connected students can research, interact and learn faster and more comprehensively than ever before. Students without an Internet connection score lower on standardized tests, have lower grade point averages and are less likely to graduate from high school

 

Internet access helps at every stage of development including grade school where interactive websites help students "become more curious and feel more confident"[4].

 

During middle school years, "home Internet use appears to empower students and reengage them in learning at an age when their academic achievement traditionally drops."4

 

In high school, "teenagers who have access to home computers are 6 to 8 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than teens who lack access to a home computer."[5]

 

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[1] Kansas Office of Educational Evaluation & Innovation, "State Library of Kansas Broadband Summit

Summary Report", November, 2, 2007.

[2] Jackson, Linda A.; Eye, Alexander von; Biocca, Frank; Barbatsis, Gretchen; Zhao, Yong; Fitzgerald,

Hiram "Does Home Internet Use Influence the Academic Performance of Low-Income Children?", Developmental Psychology, Volume 42, No. 3, 2006.

[3] DeBell, Matthew; Chapman, Chris, "Computer and Internet Use By Students in 2003", U.S Department of Education, September 2006.

[4] Jackson, Linda "Children and the Internet It's fun, but does it make you smarter?", Monitor on Psychology, Volume 38, No. 10, November 2007.

[5] Fairlie, Robert "The Effects of Home Computers on School Enrollment", Economics of Education Review, Volume 24, Issue. 5, October, 2004.