Imagine having to drive your child to a fast food restaurant so that they can connect to the Internet to finish their homework. What an enormous disadvantage that would be. How demoralizing. And, yet, it happens right here in Virginia. An estimated 660,000 Virginians do not have access to broadband internet.
In 2019, internet access is as fundamental as electricity. How can we prepare our students to participate in the modern economy if they don’t have at least this basic level of access to technology? Legislators need to ensure that every child, regardless of where they live, will have an equal opportunity to succeed.
As teachers and librarians, we see first-hand how important Internet access is to kids. More and more, the school curriculum requires students to do research and evaluation via the internet. Often homework assignments are made, and due, through a digital medium. Frequently, parents are given information about their student’s progress online. So, even if a student has access at school, once they leave those hallways, kids find themselves in an information desert.
Now imagine a school district where Internet isn’t even provided at school. That’s a whole community of people who have to fight an uphill battle to be part of modern society. Entire generations of students are being left behind.
In Virginia, we are falling behind compared to our neighboring states. In recent years, North Carolina and Tennessee have invested tens of millions in broadband infrastructure. Virginia is still thinking about whether this is a good idea. Some legislators in the Commonwealth are seemingly wringing their hands over the decision to invest $50 million to make an estimated 110,000 new connections per year.
This, during a time when 5 of the 10 largest companies in America as measured by market capitalization are not just technology companies, but companies that make money largely via their internet business.
That short list of global titans includes household names such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and, of course, Amazon, which last year announced a decision to put half of its global headquarters in Virginia. Several of the others also maintain a presence in the state as well.
The problem is even more acute in rural Virginia where communities have lost 20th century industries and need to attract new business. Broadband levels the playing field and bridges the gap that geography creates. More than a luxury, high-speed internet is a requirement for participation in today’s society.
With access to broadband — communities can create jobs, students have better education outcomes, home prices rise, first responders have faster response times, thousands could have better access to healthcare with tele-medicine, and opportunity can be equally distributed regardless of where someone lives.
A $50-million investment for broadband in this year’s budget is supported by decision-makers on both sides of the aisle. It is critical to connecting Virginians of all types but rural and economically disadvantaged students most of all.