Learning opportunities today go beyond school walls, beginning in the home with parents, continuing through early learning centers, elementary, middle and secondary schools, into the halls of higher education and workplaces, and extending into libraries, museums, health centers, community centers, and other institutions within communities. For many Americans, access to the Internet provides unprecedented means to connect to these institutions and the wider world, bridging physical environments and extending opportunities for learning both online and off.
But research has shown that low-income families have access to fewer and less-resourced schools, libraries, community centers, and other local institutions. And if these institutions are connected to the Internet, their broadband infrastructure is likely to be weaker. Many classrooms have connections that are no faster than in individual homes, though they serve exponentially more people, and some classrooms are not connected at all. Libraries and community centers often have limited devices and connectivity, and are not always open during hours when students and families most need them. And while the affluent, and a large portion of the middle-class, have high-speed home connections on desktop or laptop computers, many low-income families continue to lack the resources to connect to the Internet in ways that optimize learning.
As a result, wealthy and middle-income families have gained access to a considerable network of learning opportunities that remain out of reach for under-resourced communities. Even as families across all income levels use smartphones, online courses and on-demand video may require a level of bandwidth that low-income students and families cannot afford. These persisting gaps in Internet access and usage continue to reinforce, and in some cases expand, the digital divide.