(Courtesy photo by Joy Asico/Asico Photo)
This story is part of "Digital Divide" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. It is underwritten by Comcast NBCUniversal.
Nearly 70 percent of U.S. teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection to complete.
In neighborhoods where many families do not have a home internet connection, students face the predicament of completing assignments without the same tools as their peers.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel coined the term “homework gap” to refer to how the digital divide affects these students. Students without a home internet connection may be forced to complete their homework on smartphones (a sub-optimal solution), or anywhere that offers free WiFi such as fast-food restaurants, on the steps of community centers, or libraries.
In a 2015 survey, nearly half of students said they had had the experience of not being able to complete a homework assignment due to lack of internet or computer access — and 42% said they had received a lower grade on an assignment as a result.
Low-income students are being punished twice; first, their grades are suffering, and second, they are not getting as much training with digital tools as their peers — a skill they will need to compete in the 21st century digital economy. We know where this is most likely to happen: in neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty.
According to U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, in Old City and Society Hill, where only 2-4% of the population live below the poverty line, only 3-6% of households lack a broadband subscription. Children in these neighborhoods are likely not struggling to access the internet to complete their homework.
But in Tioga and Strawberry Mansion, where poverty rates are between 30-33%, 57-64% of households do not have wireline broadband at home.
Source: Neighborhood Boundaries based on data from Zillow. Demographic data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey.
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In the future, when these students apply to colleges or to jobs, they will be compared to one another. And the students from Tioga or Strawberry Mansion, who are more likely to have grown up without a home internet connection, amongst a plethora of other resources that middle to upper-class families have, will be at a disadvantage.
As a company committed to diversity, community, and leveling the playing field, we at Comcast have prioritized shrinking that digital divide as our number one community impact initiative.
In 2011, we launched the now acclaimed Internet Essentials program, which has now connected more than 6 million low-income Americans, to high speed internet at home. The program, although originally focused on closing the digital divide for households with school-age children, has since expanded to serve low-income veterans, recipients of HUD housing assistance, seniors and community college students in select pilot markets, and in Philadelphia is available to all low-income households.
According to the U.S. Census 2017 American Community Survey, Philadelphia experienced a seven-percentage point increase in household broadband adoption rates between 2013 and 2017. We estimate that more than half of that growth is attributed to the nearly 50,000 households (200,000 Philadelphians) that have connected through Internet Essentials, the overwhelming majority for the first time. While this is movement in the right direction, there is more work to do.
We know it takes more than just bringing a wire into a home to transform a student’s educational experience. So, every year we build on what we’ve learned to create a one-of-a-kind program that addresses digital adoption in a comprehensive way.
Internet Essentials is the only program of its kind to directly address all the main barriers (lack of relevance and digital literacy skills, lack of a computer, and affordability) to broadband adoption on a large scale by providing affordable internet ($9.95/month), low-cost computers ($149.99), and free digital literacy training in person, in print, and online.
The success of the program is due in large part to the incredible support we’ve received from tens of thousands of partners, including governmental partners like elected officials, school districts and libraries, and community-based organizations ranging from large national nonprofits including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the YMCA, the Urban League, UnidosUS, to the thousands of local nonprofits across the country and here in Philadelphia like the OIC, Lutheran Settlement House, and People’s Emergency Center. Every one of our partners helps not only to promote the program, but to create the foundation of our digital literacy training efforts.
While many of us reading this article may take for granted the power of the internet to complete homework assignments, find jobs, news, and information, and connect to benefits and resources, there are countless others who are unaware of what the internet has to offer, don’t have the resources to utilize the internet, or can’t afford the service. We hope that you can join us by becoming an Internet Essentials partner and helping spread the word about the program.
Organizations and individuals interested in becoming a partner can order free brochures at partner.internetessentials.com, and drop them off at their local nonprofit, community center, or place of worship. Every student that connects to the internet will benefit from the life changing resources it has to offer and, together, we can considerably narrow the homework gap here in Philadelphia, and across the country.-30-
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