It might not have been on your student’s official back-to-school supply list, but broadband today is an educational necessity both in and out of the classroom. Now that Texas kids are back in school, arming them with the latest technology, devices and access to high-speed broadband is part of the cable industry’s commitment to furthering education.
Cable companies work with schools to expand internet connectivity, make going online more affordable, promote distance learning, and facilitate students’ increasing use of tablets and digital devices both at home and school. Connecting kids to the information superhighway is critical for their educational development and to prepare them for an increasingly technical and competitive U.S. economy.
In Texas, cable operators provide free video services to more than 4,000 schools and free high-speed Internet to more than 300 community centers across the state.
Students at 97% of Texas’ public school districts can access the internet at speeds of 100 kbps – the short-term goal set by the Federal Communications Commission. And access is becoming more widespread, faster and more affordable for school districts. From 2015-2018, median bandwidth speeds more than tripled, while the cost of broadband in Texas has decreased by 75%, according to a report by Education Superhighway.
But the “information superhighway” isn’t helpful without an on-ramp. Students need devices. In the U.S., every student at a majority of high schools (59%) and middle schools (63%) has access to their own device, according to the most recent annual infrastructure report by the Consortium for School Networking. The report predicts that in three years, an estimated 90% of all students will have access to at least one, but as many as three, of their own devices.
But what happens outside of school?
When students tackle homework or other projects, continued access to the internet isn’t just helpful, it’s a necessity. As the nation’s largest broadband provider, cable’s fiber-rich networks are available to over 90% of U.S. homes.
And what about families who can’t afford broadband service?
Cable companies make low-cost internet available to low-income families with children who qualify for the National School Lunch program. Through this initiative, cable companies provide discounted internet services, hardware, digital literacy training, and technology centers across the country to increase accessibility and help close the digital divide. More than two million families in the U.S. have been connected through cable’s broadband adoption programs, and cable has invested more than $650 million in digital literacy training and awareness since 2011.
The nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program is Comcast’s Internet Essentials. Since August 2011, Comcast has connected eight million low-income individuals from two million households to the internet, most for the first time. Those numbers include 600,000 people in Texas, of which 400,000 are in Houston. Houston is now the top city in America participating in Internet Essentials.
In early August, Comcast announced it would further expand eligibilityto more than three million additional low-income households, including households with individuals with disabilities, new parents and adults without school-age children.
Charter Spectrum Internet Assist, launched in November 2016, targets families with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program and seniors aged 65 and older who receive Supplemental Security Income program benefits. Spectrum Internet Assist provides eligible customers low-cost broadband speeds three times faster than comparable services, exceeding the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of “high-speed.” Spectrum Internet Assist is now available throughout the company’s 41-state service area.
Altice USA in September 2017 expanded its Economy Internet program to households that qualify for the National School Lunch Program and senior citizens who qualify for Supplemental Security Income in service areas covered by Suddenlink Communications. In addition, Altice USA works with hundreds of community centers and libraries to provide free broadband in computer labs and other public spaces, enabling residents with access to high-speed internet at no charge in their communities.
With the increased ability to get on the internet at home comes the need for devices to do so. Device access – whether solo or shared with others in the household – is much less common at home than at school, found the Consortium for School Networking.
The report states: “This matters because digital learning is not limited to the classroom. Students need access to devices and robust Internet connectivity in school and at home. Students lacking 1:1 device access at home have more limited learning opportunities and may have difficult completing their homework. That difficulty puts them at a disadvantage compared to their better-resourced peers.”
Schools surveyed by the Consortium did report that a growing number of students are overcoming their barrier to devices by using those at libraries and community centers. The report notes, “Students that have to travel away from home to complete their homework are at a clear disadvantage compared to those who do not.”
The cable industry is increasingly helping to put devices into kids’ hands. For example, Comcast recently partnered with Dell Technologies as part of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program to provide more than 2,500 free laptops to students, seniors, veterans and adults in need. In addition, Dell Technologies will provide funding to upgrade 15 computer labs at local nonprofits in different cities, including two senior community centers in Houston.
On Aug. 9, Comcast gave out 300 laptops to seniors, veterans and teens in Houston as part of events across the city to raise awareness about the digital divide in partnership with City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
Charter Spectrum also has distributed tablets and laptops through organizations in its service area that work with low-income individuals. In August, Charter provided 25 new tablets and five laptops to Trinity River Mission for use in its homework/tutor program and STEAM initiatives, and in Austin it distributed 35 new computers to families living in an Austin Housing Authority apartment complex.
Cable ONE – now branded as Sparklight – launched Chromebooks for Kids in 2014 with the goal to improve student access to technology in Title I schools that may not have the sufficient funding to invest in this area. The program has since donated 900 Chromebooks to Title 1 elementary schools in Sparklight communities, including Texas schools Charlie Marshall Elementary School inAransas Pass, Ector Middle School in Odessa and Lamar Elementary School in Pampa.