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Spotlight: Schools Without Internet in Rural America

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Spotlight: Schools Without Internet in Rural America

Virginia Pavlick

As an Ed-tech company, we at MyloWrites are admittedly guilty of digital absorption. With all of the technological advancements that have been made in the past two decades, it is easy to become caught up in the world of liking, sharing, posting, and swiping. It is hard to imagine adolescents and teens who aren’t online, let alone those who simply can’t be. Yet in rural districts across the nation, students have become accustomed to the infamous spinning wheel of a struggling network connection.  Built on a foundation of working technology, we at MyloWrites feel as though this issue more than deserves our attention.

“The Slowest Internet in Mississippi”, chapter one of the three-part project Reversing a Raw Deal published by EdWeek, describes the struggles and frustrations that have become commonplace to rural schools without Internet (click here to read parts two and three). In Mississippi’s Calhoun County, author Benjamin Herold writes of the teachers’ inability to load their school’s online attendance system. Online research for class projects is out of the question, as is computerized state testing – an attempt made last spring is described simply as “a disaster”.  Perhaps most frustrating is the futility of desktop computers, SmartBoards and other expensive hardware; without an Internet connection, such devices just take up space.

The article focuses on one 17 year-old student who expresses her concern over the upcoming competition for college admittance. As a Mississippi State University hopeful, she worries that her high school’s lack of technological resources has cost her valuable learning opportunities. With so many new study and tutoring tools available online (MyloWrites included), this anxiety is valid. Even the college application process itself presents hurdles; how can students keep track of the numerous requirements and write multiple essays when they don’t even have access to university websites?

Herold states that 1 in 5 rural districts lack a high-speed Internet connection. And, for those that do manage to secure workable Internet, the bills are dramatically higher. Writes Herold,

“In places like the vast, sparsely populated plains of western New Mexico, that means telecommunications companies routinely bill $3,000 per month or more for Internet service most U.S. schools could get for one-sixth the cost.”

How can this be? The article cites geography and poor policy as top reasons, but also notes the malicious business practices of telecoms as a contributor. Companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have been known to take advantage of the system and charge obscene rates, while other smaller companies act as local monopolies.

Mississippi and New Mexico are not alone. In another recently published article, Education News writes of the Internet connectivity gaps prevalent in nearly all Alaskan schools. The national benchmark for Internet speed is set at 1000 Kbps; according to Education News, 93% of schools in Alaska fail to meet this requirement. Towns with high levels of poverty and Native American villages face the toughest challenges. According to the article, the main contributing factors are terrain, topography, and lack of infrastructure. Though rural states like Alaska and Mississippi do present geographical hurdles, for the rest of the country, problems with Internet speed seem nearly a decade old. Technological advances have opened a world of educational opportunity to connected students; how have we allowed others to fall so far behind?

Both articles acknowledge the increase in E-rate spending recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission as a glimmer of hope. The E-rate program charges fees on consumers’ phone bills in order to help fund the cost of Internet for schools and libraries. Though not without its criticism, the increase of E-rate money is generally thought of as the solution for which rural states have been waiting. Says Education Week of the recent legislation,

“The E-rate overhaul has opened the door for a major breakthrough here. In April, Calhoun County [Mississippi] received an offer for Internet connections 300 times faster than what its schools currently have, at about one-half the cost.”

But progress is moving slowly, and the battle is not yet won. MyloWrites hopes to improve awareness of the severity of the issue and encourage our readers to educate themselves and others about the E-rate program. We often forget how lucky we are to live in a place with such vast technological possibility that make educational resources like MyloWrites possible. Learn more about the FCC and the E-rate program here.