​Giving Broadband a Boost in Rural America

MAKING STRIDES: Along with increasing the E-Rate funding cap by $1.5 billion, making the program the third largest source of federal funding to schools with $3.9 billion yearly, on December 11 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also approved an increase in required rural broadband speeds for companies that receive Connect America funding.

According to the FCC’s release, the E-Rate funding and new requirements (from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps for downloads) aim to expand service to five million Americans in rural areas who currently do not have fixed broadband access. The FCC also hopes to close what Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel refers to as the “cruel homework gap” for rural American students.

This “homework gap” certainly used to pose a problem in Piedmont, Alabama, a rural community of 4,878 residents where 34.5% children live below the poverty level. But thanks to E-rate funding, the town deployed a 1:1 laptop program and a wireless network for all its residents, providing more resources for students inside the classroom and through online and dual enrollment classes in otherwise unavailable subjects. The Atlantic explores how, despite concerns over unreliable connectivity problems and an uncertain technology budget, students and educators believe getting connected is the first step to getting out of poverty.

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