Nonprofit EducationSuperHighway Aims for Helping Fill Household Broadband Gap
- By Dian Schaffhauser
is shifting its attention away from the needs of K-12 internet
connectivity and to the unconnected American household. The
nonprofit, which helped close down the "classroom connectivity
gap," has a new mission: to make sure the 18.1 million
households that can't afford to connect to broadband get it.
The name of the new campaign is "No Home Left Offline." A
report just issued by the organization asserted that there are 28.2
million unconnected households. About a quarter — 7.1 million — don't have access to broadband, primarily because they're in rural
areas that lack it; another three million choose not to connect. That
leaves 18.1 million who would use broadband if they could afford it.
This digital divide is concentrated primarily in the poorest
communities and disproportionately affects Black and Latinx
Americans, the report noted.
While federal broadband affordability programs abound,
EducationSuperHighway estimated just few people eligible for them
have taken advantage. For
example, before the pandemic less than a quarter of eligible
Americans (24%) enrolled in the Lifeline
And as of October 2021, just 16.4% of those eligible have
participated in the Emergency
Broadband Benefit (EBB)
The obstacles standing in the way are threefold:
Lack of awareness:
People are unaware of how EBB could help them get connected. A
national survey among low- and lower-middle income households found
that just 25% had heard of the program.
Lack of trust:
Families are concerned about sharing their personal information
during the sign-up process and are "skeptical" that EBB
would really cover the costs.
Signing up for EBB can be "confusing," requiring people to
provide documentation about their incomes, for example, which "many
cannot easily access."
Overcoming those hurdles will
require a multi-pronged effort involving public-private partnerships
among state and local government, internet service providers,
nonprofits, community organizations and companies, the report stated.
The blueprint suggested by the
organization consists of four phases:
1. Developing "innovative
marketing approaches" to make people aware of the federal
2. Using data to identify
households that aren't connected;
3. Using "trusted
organizations" to reach out to those households and provide help
in getting families enrolled; and
4. Allowing low-income
apartment owners to combine federal broadband benefit resources for
their tenants to provide free Wi-Fi throughout their buildings.
Those last two steps are
getting some extra emphasis by EducationSuperHighway. The
organization is working with the city of Oakland and a group of
community organizations to launch a free apartment Wi-Fi program. The
partnership will deploy free Wi-Fi in low-income apartment buildings
and establish a broadband adoption center to help eligible households
enroll in a subsidized program.
must seize this moment to accelerate progress in closing the digital
divide," said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, in a
statement. "That's why today we are launching a bold new mission
to tackle the broadband affordability gap — which has emerged as
the number one barrier to closing the digital divide. Congress is
stepping up, making resources available to close the affordability
gap, and ISPs continue to increase the availability and speed of
affordable broadband plans. We must now remove the barriers that keep
low-income families from connecting or risk wasting this opportunity
to ensure no home is left offline."
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.