New data shows broadband access still a challenge, says education advocate

New data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City outlines some of the challenges educators face when it comes to teaching digital skills. It all starts with digital access, says an education advocate.

“What’s interesting about this report is it really reminds us that computers and technology and access to the Internet is not just a way I can get to Youtube videos,” said Kansas Association of School Boards Vice President for Advocacy, Mark Tallman. “It really has an impact on how students learn, on how people bank, on whether businesses can grow in certain communities.”

According to the report, just 53 percent of adults with incomes less than $30,000 have broadband at home, compared with 95 percent of those with incomes above $75,000. Nearly 68 percent of those without broadband at home live in rural communities.

“It’s hard to make it equal,” said Tallman. “Rural areas, it’s simply much more expensive to get broadband to, just as it was to string electric wires. If you are low income, it’s very hard even to afford a modem, for example.”

It’s important to note that even in schools with a one-to-one device program, if the device doesn’t have an Internet connection at home, those kids are not getting the same benefit from it as those that have such a connection.

“Most jobs of the future, kids are going to have to know how to use a computer,” said Tallman. “They’re going to have to know how to access the Internet. That’s just the way work is going to be in any kind of middle-class job or higher. It really is a problem to say, here’s a family, whether you’re out on a farm, or you’re a family living in poverty in the big city that can’t access the Internet.”

One report says that 83 percent of “middle class” jobs paying at least $15 an hour are classified by “digitally intensive,” and they jobs are growing faster and pay more than jobs requiring fewer digital skills.