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Universal Broadband Access in the U.S.

Sketch of a field and some buildings with the title of the project typed over it

Overview

Learners and workers across the United States face a tremendous, yet resolvable challenge: lack of access to the Internet and the tools they need to work in a connected world.

We have overcome challenges like this before: to overcome communication barriers more than two centuries ago, we created the U.S. Postal Service. More than a century ago, we worked together to meet the basic need for electricity in rural areas across the country.

It’s time to electrify the country again, in an equally important way. The ASU ShapingEDU “Connecting for Work and Learning” initiative aims to make concrete collective progress toward this future where broadband is accessible to all.

This is our future; it needs to be our present. We hope you’ll join us to drive universal access to the Internet and digital resources through a collaborative effort involving local, regional, and national collaborators. Together, we will craft a more equitable future in education, work and society. You can make a difference.

 

Initial Problem Statement

Learners and workers across the United States face a tremendous, yet resolvable challenge: lack of access to the Internet and the tools they need to work in a connected world. We can see, in our present shelter-in-place environment, that people can’t work adequately and effectively because they lack access to broadband tools and resources. In and beyond our current remote environments, access to digital communication channels is essential to the discourse that is at the heart of our democracy. We believe there is an answer: universal broadband and access to the tools and resources necessary to leverage internet access for learning and work. Equitable access to Internet resources can help heal wounds that exist now, provide for both structured and organic solutions to arise, and provide tools to strengthen our ability to collaborate at local, regional, and national levels to creatively, innovatively solve problems. We need partners to make this happen. We need you to join the project team.

In spring 2020, enormously challenging issues both polarized and drew people together in reaction to the need for massive transformation. One of these challenges involved the quick--and for many, unplanned--move from a focus on onsite learning and work to online learning and work. Drawing upon past initiatives (including the electrification of America during the first half of the twentieth century and the earlier creation of a national postal service), members of the ShapingEDU community asked a basic question: 

How can we individually and collaboratively move concretely toward universal broadband access and access to the tools, practices, resources (e.g., people) and systems of support needed to flourish in learning and at work? 

Rural, urban, and suburban learners; no devices, old devices; no connectivity, slow connectivity, cellular-only connectivity; the wrong sides of the road. These are only some of the barriers faced by people across America when it comes to connecting to the internet to continue schoolwork, to teach, to create, to conference call, to connect, during this pandemic -- and beyond.  In this moment, we are challenged to consider the world we want to emerge into, and act to create those futures.

The ShapingEDU community’s focus is on individual impact toward collective, collaborative results. In this project, we strive to enable  learning by addressing gaps in access to broadband internet, devices, information and resources, and human support. Access to the internet and resources is a starting point but must be accompanied by education to evaluate and use the information and resources for the greater good. The intersection of access and education creates a proving ground of innovation and progress.

Action: A community of education changemakers seeks to catalyze change in response to this urgent challenge through action-oriented resources, community engagement + stakeholder inclusion and partnership. Specifically, we are taking the following steps:

  • Document the challenge and envision the potential  (call to action: share examples!);

  • Identify groups and individuals currently addressing the problem;

  • Identify barriers;

  • Propose actions (for example, creating and curating resources and events);

  • Propose builds to expand and amplify actions and go beyond ‘solving the problem’ ;

  • Develop partnerships; and

  • Collectively enact actions

  • Iterate, build, expand and innovate

 

Get Involved

 

 

Jeremy, a college student, lived on campus until the dorms closed. He returned home to the farm, with his course books and laptop, but his family lives 15 miles away from the nearest town, and has no internet. No cell service is available, either, and satellite internet is cost-prohibitive for Jeremy’s family. How will this mass media major finish his video journalism coursework project?

 

 

Joy, a third grade teacher in North Dakota, sits outside her school in a camping chair, covered in blankets, as she teaches her students over Zoom. Her home in the country is on the wrong side of the road to get internet service.

 

 

Davis, a high school junior in a large city, faces retaking his AP chemistry test in June. Five minutes from submission, his home internet speed drops out and kicks him out of the exam before he can submit his work. His family can’t afford any higher-quality internet connection.

 

 

The students at Hope Rural School  in Florida were sent home on March 13th, 2020 (as all students due to COVID-19), but their at home learning experience is not that of others. The students went home to families who are struggling migrant workers. WIFI is not an option at their home, neither is device ownership other than perhaps a phone. 

Parents were asked to drive to the school once every two weeks to pick up paper packets with books and worksheets sealed in a Ziplock baggie. Teachers would prepare these packets and rotate collecting and distributing. Think about the teaching component? What if a student had a question? Most of the parents of these students have limited English skills,and most don't even have a high school education.

Sister Elizabeth Dunn, the loving kind director has gone out of her way to help the students. She even told families they could drive over to the school and sit in the parking lot to get WIFI (she called in some tech people to change the WIFI setup so it could be used in the parking lot). 

Those virtual graduations we see and smile about on the news? Not happening for Hope school graduates. They'll have to wait until school starts again when they'll be gone from Hope school. There is no celebratory ending for these children.

 

 

Nadine, an eighth grader, types away on her old cracked smartphone. Her fingers are cramped from typing her English paper, and her head hurts from staring at the tiny screen and craning her neck. She hits submit. Her paper disappears and her phone returns a “failure to connect” message. She checks her data plan: out of data for the month. No overage allowed, as her phone plan bill is two months delinquent. Her dad is out of work. And unemployment still hasn’t come. How will she finish this essay?