Aug. 17, 2022
This project is a partnership between the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.
An estimated 15 to 17 million students were cut off from remote learning when schools shut down at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic; a snapshot of the staggering connectivity crisis that afflicts communities and households from coast to coast. While federal assistance is available, much of the country’s more than $60 billion investment in broadband as part of the 2021 infrastructure law is yet to be spent. Thus, there is a pressing need to identify how communities can make the most of their resources when it comes to connecting students and erasing the “homework gap” that forms between students with reliable home internet access and those without.
OTI and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition have long advocated for building broadband “To-and-Through” schools, libraries, and other “anchor institutions”—upgrading and extending the networks these public buildings already maintain to connect low-income households directly to the internet. This approach is often stymied by federal funding requirements that make it difficult to spend resources off campus. In January of 2021, our organizations petitioned the FCC to permit the use of E-rate funds to help pay to connect students without adequate internet access at home. This petition built on an OTI report, The Online Learning Equity Gap, that described the harms of the homework gap and why we believe the FCC has the authority to make school and library networks eligible for E-Rate support.
This project, a joint undertaking of OTI and SHLB Coalition, comprises two parts: an economic study by Dr. Raul Katz of Telecom Advisory Services and a series of case studies examining communities around the country that exemplify the To-and-Through approach.
The economic study clearly demonstrates that building broadband networks To-and-Through anchor institutions is often the most cost effective and financially sustainable option for connecting students in rural and underserved areas. The case studies show that both large and small school districts, including Council Bluffs (Iowa) and Fresno (Cali.), are using a variety of wireless technologies and partnerships to permanently close the homework gap.
These findings offer key revelations for policymakers and advocates as we all look to make the most of present and future investments in closing the digital divide, as well as providing a roadmap for communities to pursue their own successful To-and-Through solutions.
OTI and SHLB would like to thank the dozens of school, library, and other anchor institution staff who offered their time and expertise to make our case studies possible.
About the SHLB Coalition
The SHLB Coalition is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public interest organization that supports open, affordable, high-quality broadband connections for anchor institutions and their surrounding communities. The SHLB Coalition is based in Washington, D.C. and has a diverse membership of commercial and non-commercial organizations from across the United States. To learn more, visit www.shlb.org.
View Our Webinar: Featuring remarks from Dr. Raul Katz, SHLB and OTI leaders, and representatives from three case study areas: Selwyn Hollins, Director, Internal Services Department, Los Angeles County; Philip Neufeld, Executive Officer, Technology Services, Fresno Unified School District; and John Stile, Chief Technology Officer, Council Bluffs Community School District.
Press Release: New Research Finds Extending School, Library Networks Key to Connecting Households
The Online Learning Equity Gap: Our 2020 report features additional profiles of schools finding innovative solutions to connect students to the internet both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.