The Minneapolis Reformer reports on the status of broadband for students in Minnesota…
Roughly 25,000 Minnesota students didn’t have computers or internet at home by late spring, about 3% of the state’s K-12 students, the Minnesota Department of Education estimated. And so far this summer, there’s been little progress getting families online. The Legislature considered but didn’t approve additional funds for state programs aimed at building out broadband infrastructure in rural areas, where about 17% of families don’t have broadband access.
The Minnesota Department of Education recommends — but does not require — that districts provide hotspots and tablets for students who don’t have devices at home during distance learning. A partnership between the state and Minnesota businesses and nonprofits — including Best Buy, Comcast and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation — has raised nearly $2 million to bring internet access and computers to students statewide; funds won’t be distributed until late September, however.
They paint a picture in rural areas…
For now, families without broadband access are still waiting for solutions. This spring, Lake Shore resident Kathy Moore’s three children spent hours each day waiting for videos to load and redoing lost work, anxious about missing assignments and falling behind because of their subpar hotspot connection.
This year, their school will start with hybrid learning and require students to participate in live online classes three days a week, Moore said — an extra strain on their already-slow connection.
“A lot of people think that the rural areas struggle the most (with internet access) — and they do struggle, that’s a very real thing,” said Mary Lucic, community outreach manager for St. Paul-based nonprofit PCs for People. “But the urban digital divide is just as real.”
Network engineer and tech advocate Ini Augustine said a number of parents across the metro asked her for help with hotspots this spring, and she found that some of the devices were faulty or simply unable to get a strong connection — meaning families still couldn’t get online.
Hotspots can be a gamble because they require cell service, Lucic said. They might work well for families in a certain area, but someone a mile away might be in a dead zone with no service, she said.