Superintendents know that home internet is a necessity but not a certainty for students on the wrong side of the digital divide. For those leaders keen to advocate for greater connectivity in their communities, a new report shares five ways they can make a positive impact outside the classroom.
Some 30 million households are eligible for, but not taking advantage of, the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, also known as ACP. Drilling down, a quarter of low-income residents in five big cities said they do not subscribe to home internet service, according to a survey for Connected Nation’s latest report, “Mind the Gap: Closing the Digital Divide through affordability, access, and adoption.”
“It is all too easy for us to make assumptions about why a family or individual is not subscribing to high-speed internet,” said Tom Ferree, chairman & CEO of Connected Nation, a Kentucky-based nonprofit working to get more families hooked up to the internet.
“This is a nuanced issue,” Ferree continued, “and it’s critical for us to identify the pain points and work together to find solutions for not only expanding access to broadband but also helping people adopt and use the resources it offers.”
Around 9% of low-income respondents surveyed said they don’t subscribe to internet service because the monthly cost is too high. More than two-thirds said they did not know about the Affordable Connectivity Program and about three in 10 didn’t think they qualified for the discounts. Still, a large majority of the program’s subscribers are satisfied with the process of getting connected and are using the internet for homework, telework, participating in video meetings and taking online classes, the report found.
Here are five ways school leaders work with community organizations and others to better inform families about their broadband options:
- Local, trusted entities should promote home internet service. The survey revealed that many participants are skeptical of offers from internet providers or the federal government that may seem “too good to be true.” Education leaders can work with more trusted community institutions—such as places of worship, libraries and community centers—to introduce residents to affordable internet connectivity. Some organizations are training digital navigators to show people how to sign up for broadband and how to use computers and the Internet.
- Promote digital equity programs in a variety of ways. Programs that promote low-cost home internet service or computing devices must be
advertised in low-income communities rather than, for example, on social media networks to which they may have little or no access. School district leaders can help promote home internet programs such as ACP. Connected Nation has found the program has more subscribers in metro areas where there is greater awareness of it.
- Highlight the benefits of home internet access. The top reasons many households do not subscribe to home internet service include having the ability to get online at the library or with smartphones. Educators can talk about the greater functionality of home internet for tasks such as homework, filling out job applications or sharing information with healthcare providers.
- Target the needs of populations who are the least likely to subscribe. Ads will fall flat if they don’t address issues of specific concern to various communities. For example, young and older adults will trust different sources of information. Educators can craft messages that inform their target audiences—students and families—of the empowering, even life-changing impact of home internet.
- Potential enrollees want as much detail as possible. Some potential subscribers did not consider themselves poor but still may qualify for discounts. Educators can spread the message that many current subscribers described the sign-up process as positive.