EducationSuperHighway continues to help bridge the digital divide

By Ana Martinez-Ortiz

Evan marwell

It’s easy to assume that everyone is using the Internet, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, not everyone has Internet access and while some households may not have Internet access for personal reasons, many do for financial reasons.

EducationSuperHighway, a non-profit organization that has helped bridge the connectivity gap in the classroom, has a new mission: to help bridge the digital divide. The organization published its findings and solutions in its report, “No Home Left Offline,” on Thursday, November 4.

In its report, the organization found that approximately 28.2 million homes in the United States do not have broadband; of that, 18.1 million of these households cannot afford it.

Evan Marwell is the Founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. In an interview with the Milwaukee Courier, Marwell discussed the report’s findings and how the nonprofit is geared up to help pave the way for bridging the digital divide.

Marwell launched EducationSuperHighway in 2012 with the intention of connecting all classrooms in public schools to the internet. At the time, about 10% of American students had access to broadband, Marwell said. In 2019, the organization increased that number to 99%.

The organization worked with the federal government to secure funding and then connected with the local government to implement access through upgrades and outreach. This effort involved working with school districts and making sure they had accurate information on topics like costs and upgrades.

Once its original mission was completed, EducationSuperHighway was set to shut down in March 2020, but the pandemic struck.

“They sent 50 million children home and about a third of them did not have internet access at home,” Marwell said. “Suddenly this digital divide that people were talking about, the homework gap that people have been talking about all along, suddenly really mattered.”

That’s when Marwell’s phone started ringing with calls from the government, teachers and more. The organization decided rather than shutting down it would pivot its mission.

Over the next eight months, he connected around 3 million children to the internet.

“If you didn’t have broadband at home, you were left out of the economy during the pandemic,” Marwell said. “You couldn’t send your kids to school, you couldn’t work remotely, you couldn’t get health care, you couldn’t get vocational training, you couldn’t access the social safety net. and you couldn’t access government service benefits. “

It was a wake-up call, to all Americans, about the importance of the Internet and the downsides of living without it, Marwell said. A cell phone can have the Internet, but it’s not the same, he added.

Many people think the digital divide only applies to households in rural areas, Marwell said, and while it remains a problem, it’s not as important as it used to be. Affordability is more of a problem than infrastructure today.

One of the solutions was the Lifeline program, Marwell said. According to the Federal Communications Commission, this is a federal program that began in 1985 with the goal of connecting low-cost telephone service to low-income consumers. In 2016, the Lifeline program was extended to include broadband access.

In addition to the Lifeline program, there was also the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which was part of the second stimulus bill introduced under former President Donald Trump. Less than 20% of eligible households signed up for these programs, Marwell said. There were three reasons for this: eligible households were unaware of the programs; people expressed a lack of confidence; and internet was required to register.

Through its research and past experience, EducationSuperHighway has found several solutions, which it detailed in its “No Home Left Offline” report. One of the solutions is to use community organizations, which have established trust with residents. This involves giving community organizations the tools to connect their residents to the Internet. Another solution is to install free Wi-Fi networks in social housing buildings.

“These are the two main solutions that we believe can be replicated and scaled up across the country,” said Marwell. “It’s part of the job we’re doing now.

Over the next 18 months, the organization will work to ensure that policies and funding are in place to begin implementing programs. Marwell estimates that it will take about five years to expand nationwide.

To begin with, the campaign will focus on the most disconnected communities in the country. These are places where 25% or more of households do not have Internet access. Milwaukee is one of those unconnected communities, Marwell said, because 80,000 households, or about 35%, do not have Internet access.

“Milwaukee is going to be a place that is going to be a priority for us,” said Marwell. “But it’s not just Milwaukee, it’s urban, it’s suburban, it’s small towns. This is a problem everywhere, and we want to focus on places where at least 25% of households do not have Internet access.

The internet is transformative, he said, and people are using it to improve their lives.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to make real progress in bridging the digital divide,” said Marwell. “We had this opportunity and we must take advantage of it. “

To learn more about EducationSuperHighway, visit their website at www.educationsuperhighway.org.

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