'Homework Gap' Needs Broadband Fill, Rosenworcel Says

FCC member says library connectivity could help solve students' lack of high-speed access

Washington, D.C. -- Assuring students access to broadband service outside school and their homes is essential, and added funding for high-speed access in libraries is a significant way to accomplish that goal, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in her speech on "The Broadband Imperative and the Homework Gap" on Thursday.  

Addressing the State Education Technology Directors Association, she complimented the group for its  second "Broadband Imperative Report," just released, which focuses on "digital equity." 

"This is an issue that demands attention -- I believe your work here is a clarion call," Rosenworcel said. She characterized the organization's first Broadband Imperative report in 2012 as an incentive for the FCC to update its E-rate program which helps connect schools and libraries to broadband. 

But she pointed out that today "seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access," putting it in the context of FCC data showing that "one in three household does not have broadband service." Rosenworcel called the sector that is not reached as a "homework gap" where students cannot fully complete school assignments. 

Her remarks never mention the role of cable TV operators in developing broadband services for audiences who can use such facilities to close the homework gap. 

She cited examples of students' creative efforts to access broadband -- from sitting in fast food restaurants or the parking lots near schools or the steps outside public libraries to use wireless broadband after school hours. 

"These kids are resilient. They are cobbling together whatever connectivity they can find to do their schoolwork," Rosenworcel said. "Their grit is impressive.  But it shouldn’t be this hard."

She cited the Library Service and Technology Act as "the only federal program exclusively for libraries." Although funds from this federal program support a range of projects for  libraries and learning, Rosenworcel suggested that "this kind of connectivity ... effort deserves support." She was particularly enthusiastic about such opportunities to "bridge the homework gap and close the cruelest part of the digital divide."

Moreover, she said, she envisioned that universal broadband access will be able to turn all students "into not just digital consumers but digital creators."