Connecting Every American Student to Eliminate the Digital Divide

(StatePoint) Estimates on the number of students who lack reliable connectivity outside the classroom range greatly. What’s known for sure is that the “homework gap” has affected millions for many years. When classes were conducted remotely, this nagging issue turned into a full-blown crisis.

As schools continue to grapple with the issue of the digital divide and lingering impacts of the pandemic, programs designed to connect more households couldn’t be more critical.

“The homework gap is why even before the pandemic, T-Mobile saw the potential for taking the network capacity that our newly merged company would deliver, and conceived a program that addresses this important issue at a historic size and scale,” says Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile. “In 2020, we launched Project 10Million, a $10.7 billion initiative offering free internet service and free mobile hotspots to up to 10 million eligible households over five years. The program also offers districts free and highly subsidized data plans that they can provide to their students for free.”

With the knowledge that the further a student falls behind, the harder it is for them to catch up, T-Mobile teams that had already worked with school districts kicked into overdrive when COVID-19 hit. More than 1,000 U.S. school districts have already enrolled in the program, and thousands of individual families with qualifying students have signed up directly as well. All in, T-Mobile has connected 3 million students nationwide since the start of last year.

One story from Renton School District, a Project 10Million participant just down the road from T-Mobile’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., underscores the need for this program. After school counselor Sophia Simpson-Verger shifted in-person parent conferences to Zoom, she became concerned when several families failed to appear for their digital sessions. So, she decided to mask up and drop by their homes to find out why. Simpson-Verger learned that many of her students didn’t have reliable connectivity. Parents couldn’t log in to conferences. Worse yet, students were using a parent’s cell phone to try keep up with remote learning.  

“Imagine attending school on a cell phone. It’s heartbreaking but it’s also not uncommon,” says Sievert. “And it persists even after things started returning to in-person learning and as we look forward to post-pandemic times. The digital divide did not go away as vaccines rolled out. As schools reopened last spring and kids of all ages started to return to the classroom, about two-thirds of US public schools were still doing at least some of their classes from home.”

Incorporating technology in the classroom has clear advantages as the digital economy grows exponentially, but so far universal access to the tools required to participate equitably remains out of reach. One major factor is the expense, especially for economically disadvantaged families. In the United States, families pay an average of $68 every month just for home internet service, according to data from New America. Add in taxes and things like equipment rental fees and the total often increases to $80 to $100, depending on where they live.

If the solution sounds simple — make sure every student has broadband service and a device to connect to it — the reality of getting it done is not. However, programs like Project 10Million, now entering its second full year, are making huge strides.

To learn more about T-Mobile’s Project 10Million or to register your school district for the program, visit www.t-mobile.com/p10m. If you’re the parent or guardian of an eligible student, you can register at www.t-mobile.com/project10million.

“As our global society becomes more reliant on internet technology, we can’t take it for granted that everyone everywhere can get online whenever they need to,” says Sievert. “As much as we’ve done to connect millions of students across the country, there are millions more to go – and we’re just getting started.”

Photo Credit: (c) insta_photos / Adobe Stock

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