Bridging the Homework Gap
In the matter of just a few days in March 2020, COVID-19 dramatically changed the way we work, play and learn. Schools quickly scrambled to adopt remote learning and digital classrooms. This change quickly exposed the “Homework Gap” evident for students that lacked or had poor Internet access at home and could not reliably access their digital learning.
While many schools have opened back up over time, COVID-19 indelibly highlighted a key issue evident in communities across the US. Those without Internet access, estimated at around 20% of US households, are at a fundamental disadvantage – now and in the future as we must be prepared if similar situations occur again.
While we need to address the short-term, immediate needs of COVID-19, educators and community leaders should also focus on the long-term, sustainable benefits of community and classroom connectivity.
Federal Funding That Can Help
In response to the Homework Gap challenge, Congress established a $7.171 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This fund provides reimbursement of expenses for eligible equipment and services used for delivering Internet access outside of the school.
The ECF is administered by the USAC, the same organization that administers the E-rate program which provides federal funds for Internet access to schools and IT infrastructure within schools. More information on the program can be found here.
What Solutions Are Available?
Many schools adopted the use of personal Wi-Fi hotspot devices connected to carrier LTE or MyFi networks and some are investigating private LTE solutions to bridge the homework gap. While these solutions may address the challenge for digital learning in the short term, the ongoing service fees and maintenance of has proved daunting for many schools.
As a longer-term alternative, Cambium Networks has fixed wireless solutions that can extend the school network beyond campuses and reach students where they are learning remotely. Such solutions have the advantage of:
- Simplicity – Turnkey service that can be quickly enabled
- Longevity – Available for years into the future, not just temporarily for the pandemic
- Economical – Affordable with funding reimbursement from the ECF
Sustainable Connectivity for Communities & Classrooms
Connectivity solutions need to work for students and the school. Beyond this, fixed wireless solutions may be able to deliver access to the broader community through a sustainable network solution. Service providers that are skilled in providing broadband networks or MyFi solutions install and manage the networks, allowing schools to focus their resources on excellence in education.
The deployment of a reliable, high-performance network is going to transform our community, allowing our students to connect to their classes virtually and enabling our workforce to elevate its knowledge and capabilities.Dr. J.A. Gonzalez, Ed.D., Superintendent of McAllen Independent School District
Closing the Digital Divide in Education
Recent connected school projects:
Collinsville Community Unit School District #10 partnered with IT solutions provider STEP CG to construct a private LTE network which utilizes technologies from Nokia and Cambium Networks.
McAllen, Texas Community Broadband – The Mayor, Superintendent of Schools and communications service providers collaborated to deploy a community-wide access network serving thousands of students.
Remote Education for Western US Tribal Nations – Community leaders and communications consultants connected more than 100,000 people in 11 Native American Tribal communities.
- The Stars Align In Solving the E-rate Homework Gap: ARPA Provides $7.1B to the Emergency Connectivity Fund
- FCC Public Notice on Wireline Competition Bureau Seeks Comment on Emergency Connectivity Fund for Educational Connections and Devices to Address the Homework Gap Durning the Pandemic
- The FCC E-Rate – Schools & Libraries USF Program
- Interview with Resound Networks on Drive-In Wi-Fi for schools
- Solution Paper: Wireless Connectivity Enables Remote Education