Home > Uncategorized > Virginia Newspaper Hails Internet Access in Schools… but Notes that Home Access, End of Net Neutrality Pose Problems

Virginia Newspaper Hails Internet Access in Schools… but Notes that Home Access, End of Net Neutrality Pose Problems

December 25, 2017

News Virginian reporter Bob Stuart writes of the success the MacAuliffe administration in upgrading the bandwidth in the public schools in his region, but also notes that the lack of access at home and the recent FCC decision could compromise equity of opportunity… and that’s before the Virginia legislature faces the effects of the tax reform package.

Mr. Stuart’s article opens with the good news:

Seventy-five percent of Virginia’s public schools — including those in Waynesboro, Augusta County and Staunton — now have internet access that meets or exceeds the minimum standard set by the Federal Communications Commission, according to Gov. Terry McAullife.

That figure is dramatically higher than the 14 percent that met the FCC minimum in 2015. Efforts by the McAuliffe administration to improve access has helped boost the number of schools with access, officials inside and outside government say. The  Virginia Department of Education’s Learning Infrastructure Program alone has helped 70 school districts achieve upgraded bandwidth.

But he then notes that school access alone is insufficient:

…once the students in those divisions leave school, gaps in broadband internet access, particularly in Augusta County, remain. The county board of supervisors has sought state grants the past two years to bridge the county’s digital divide. The county received a $279,000 grant in March, and has applied for a second grant of $233,040.

Mr. Stuart also reports on the workarounds some schools have devised to mitigate the lack of internet at home, with a local director of instruction and technology indicating that “…students can work on a Google document offline after leaving school” as long as they upload that document before leaving school, a “solution” that strikes me— as a homeowner who has no access to broadband whatsoever– as inherently unfair. In my case the lack of access to broadband isn’t a question of wealth: it just isn’t available at all! Based on what I divine from this article, the same in true in the rural Virginia counties.

Mr. Stuart also flags another problem rural schools and children raised in poverty might face:

Last week’s 3-2 FCC approval regarding net neutrality could have an iimpact on K-12 schools across the country.

The question is how much of the current unrestricted access to web-based lessons, videos, curriculum and other teaching tools will continue.

Despite identifying two obvious problems, Mr. Stuart overlooks a third one: the impact of the new tax bill on the ability of state and local governments to undertake costly initiatives like the grants Augusta County received in previous years. The question there is how much affluent communities in Northern Virginia will be willing to increase their taxes when their deductions are limited to $10,000 per year. That could stifle revenue for State and local governments at the same time as their demands increase due to cutbacks at the federal level.

For those who already have broadband and those who can afford the “web-based lessons, videos, curriculum and other teaching tools” none of this poses a problem. For those lacking broadband or those lacking the funding needed to get into the fast lane? Plan to spend lots of time staring at a spinning rainbow colored wheel!  

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