Closing the digital divide for distance education estimated cost: $6-12 billion

Common Sense recently published a report on what it would take to close the digital divide in the age of distance learning

With the prospect of another distance learning school year on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis released today finds that a full 15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning. The analysis, from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, also finds that almost 10% of public school teachers (300,000 to 400,000) are also caught in the gap, affecting their ability to run remote classes. The 32-page report, Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning, fixes a one-year price tag of at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.

I’m more of a writer than a mathematician but that looks like $732 per unserved student and teacher. (That’s looking at highest estimate for cost and number of disconnected.) That doesn’t feel like such a high number – especially when you know that a house with broadband reaps an average ANNUAL economic benefit of $1850 – and that’s a pre-COVID number. Broadband is an investment is education and economic development. And especially during the pandemic, it can be a literal lifesaver to compromised patients who need healthcare services.

The report also pulls data out by state. Here’s how Minnestoa shows up:

  • Students without adequate high-speed connection 249,845
  • % Students without adequate high-speed connection 28%
  • Students without devices 162,607
  • % Students without devices 18%
  • Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 6,379
  • % Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 11%
  • Teachers without devices 1,046
  • % Teachers without devices 2%

The speed they are looking at for unserved is 25/3, which is the 2022 speed goal in Minnesota. In April, the Office of Broadband Development said 92.19 of Minnesota households were served – leaving 7.81 unserved.

So what’s the difference in these numbers? OBD is looking at available access only, which means if a household is in a served area. Not whether they get it or not, just if they could. Common Sense is looking at whether a household subscribes and do they have devices available to use it. Common Sense is looking at students and teachers access, not households. So the numbers tell slightly difference stories. Knowing the difference I think helps to frame the discussion of digital equity.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, MN, Policy, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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