Working from home and online learning have become the norm during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shuttered offices and schools.
What has also become clear, unfortunately, is that millions of Americans are at an extreme disadvantage caused by limited Internet access in their communities.
Just as roads, bridges and dams are important parts of the nation’s infrastructure needs, so too is reliable high-speed Internet access. Congress must commit funding for programmes that improve service to those parts of the country where it is lacking.
The Pew Research Center found that 1 in 4 Americans has no high-speed Internet access at home, either because the residence is in a rural area with limited service or because service is too expensive.
An 11-month study by Penn State researchers in 2018 found that more than half of Pennsylvania’s residents did not have access to the minimum broadband connection. In neighbouring Ohio, more than 300,000 households do not have broadband access.
That has created a multitude of problems during the pandemic, especially for students whose coursework has shifted to online during stay-at-home directives.
Elected officials across the country have been suggesting that people use Wi-Fi access at libraries, schools, nonprofits and other organisations that still offer connectivity. In some parts of the country, that means students and teachers are completing coursework while sitting in cars in parking lots where Internet access is available.
Rural school districts have attempted to address the access issue during the pandemic by equipping school buses with Internet hot spots and driving them to central locations so students can access schoolwork.
For many students, learning has shifted over the past two months from classrooms to homes to parking lots. The educational process is bound to suffer from the disruption.
Congress recently passed legislation requiring the Federal Communications Commission to collect more detailed information from broadband providers and develop more accurate mapping of areas with limited or no service. What’s needed next is funding to bring service to those areas.
In the meantime, parking lots at schools, libraries and businesses that kept their connection active have become lifelines for those who can’t connect at home.
The shutdown of schools and businesses during this pandemic has magnified how dependent we have become on a reliable Internet connection as part of our daily routine. The focus has been on education because of the school closings, but businesses can succeed with work-from-home plans only if their employees have Internet access as well.
This should be a wake-up call for the need of a federal commitment to expanding Internet service nationwide. - Tribune News Service
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