About 1 million Texans don’t have home access to broadband, a state report found last summer.
The pandemic made Texas’ already gaping digital divide much more challenging, which had lawmakers pledging to close that gap. Gov. Greg Abbott named expanding broadband access one of his priority items at the beginning of session, and last week two omnibus bills gained traction when they each were unanimously voted out of their House and Senate committees.
About 15% of households in metropolitan areas don’t have access to broadband data plans, he said, and the problem can’t just be solved with infrastructure. Families also struggle with affordability and gaps in digital literacy.
It’s important to include “regular people” in the discussion process for these plans, said Josephine López Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of congregations, schools and nonprofits. López Paul, who helps organize advocates around issues in their Dallas County communities, has noticed that many are still grappling with the same internet challenges as they were at the start of the pandemic.
“They need to do some bottom-up listening and not just assume they have a plan that’s going to work with people,” López Paul said. “They can put broadband structures in areas and if people don’t know that it’s there or that they need it … it’s just going to be a wasted effort.”
In recent hearings that drew overwhelmingly positive feedback from nonprofit advocates, school leaders and internet service providers, one lawmaker emphasized the bills aren’t a foolproof solution on their own.
[Photo Credit: Lola Gomez/DMN Staff Photographer]
KUT Radio, Austin's NPR station, interviews Bastrop Interfaith/CTI leader Edie Clark in a story covering the multiple barriers marginalized communities in Bastrop face in accessing the COVID vaccine.
Ms. Clark cited the digital divide, need for better communication, and trust that need to be rebuilt in communities like Stony Point which is still recovering from anti-immigrant policies of the Bastrop Sheriff.
[Photo Credit: Gabriel C. Perez]
As Bastrop County Builds Vaccination Hub 'From Scratch,' Groups Focus on Dismantling Barriers, KUT Radio, Austin's NPR Station [pdf]
'Coloradans for the Common Good' & Allies Leverage $20M for Digital Infrastructure, Say More is Needed
After 'Coloradans for the Common Good' and educator union leaders engaged their membership around the impact of the digital divide on teachers and students, they organized virtual summits to publicize what they learned and to begin to build a constituency for change.
Behind the scenes, state lawmakers began crafting legislation to address some of those frustrations, ultimately passing a bill that will provide $20 million in grants for districts to broaden internet access to their students. The monies are part of a state stimulus package developed in a special legislative session.
At its third virtual summit on the subject, the short-term stimulus was announced and celebrated. However, CCG leaders understand that the grants won’t ensure every young Coloradan has reliable access to the internet and plan to continue working for longer-term support.
[Photo Credit: Valerie Mosley/Colorado Sun]
Access to Remote Learning a Challenge in Rural Communities, Colorado Springs Indy [pdf]
A family in the San Luis Valley has made an X in masking tape on the kitchen counter. It’s the only place a remote hotspot works so the children can access remote school lessons. A mother who runs a hair salon in Commerce City brings her daughter to work with her. It’s the only place she can access online learning using her mother’s hotspot. But it means the mother has problems running credit cards at the same time. A third of students in the South Routt School district south of Steamboat Springs don’t have internet access. Teachers, parents and school superintendents told these stories during the Internet Access Summit Wednesday calling for affordable and universal internet, faster download and upload speeds and higher data caps, and training to ensure families can access quality connections.
The virtual summit, sponsored by Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of education, labor and faith-based groups, included teachers, school officials, elected officials, and representatives of internet service providers Comcast, Verizon and T-Mobile. “It’s frustrating,” said Toby Melster, superintendent of the Centennial School District in San Luis, Colorado. He estimates about 30 percent of his students are falling behind simply because they don’t have a high-quality internet connection. He said companies have donated some hotspots but because there are multiple people in a family who need to go online, “they’ve got to make a decision about who gets access to the hotspot...”
As Colorado Schools Reopen, Thousands of Students Still Don't Have Reliable Internet, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
Coloradans for the Common Good Helps Comcast Close Digital Divide and Include Immigrants in Nationwide Program
[Additional background from the Colorado Sun:]
In March, Comcast began offering [a] discounted service for free for 60 days to new families. The service usually costs $9.95 per month and caters to low-income households. Comcast also increased the service’s internet speed to 25 mbps and plans to continue making it free for 60 days to new eligible customers for the rest of 2020. The company is also offering free public Wi-Fi through the end of the year.
But the Internet Essentials program didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who qualified. Coloradans for the Common Good this spring approached Comcast to ask the internet giant to modify its application, which asked for Social Security numbers even though other forms of identification were acceptable.
That deterred some immigrant families from attempting to enroll in the service. Coloradans for the Common Good — composed of churches, community organizations and teachers’ unions — reached out to lawmakers and Comcast’s corporate leaders pleading for change. After a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings, Comcast adjusted its application nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted. That change took effect in June, said Marilyn Winokur, co-chair of Coloradans for the Common Good.
“We want to get as many, many families that don’t have internet access to have the access that they need in order to participate in remote learning should it happen again,” Winokur said.
[Photo Credit: Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun]
Big Wins on Internet Access, Fair Wages for School Workers, Coloradans for the Common Good