Back to school looked quite different for students in Texas this year. Between participating in Zoom calls with teachers and completing assignments online, Texas school children are connecting to their education in an entirely new way. With this change comes challenges but, we have a Texas-sized opportunity to ensure that no child falls behind because they lack connectivity or access to devices.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that more than 12 million American school children did not have access to the internet at home. The digital divide, or the disconnect between students who do have access to technology at home and those who do not, has only increased since March 2020. The divide has become so drastic that it inspired a rather uninspiring term: the homework gap. Too many children are unable to access their course work online and their education is suffering because of this disconnect.
Not only does Texas have too many children unable to connect from home but we have an even more drastic divide between our urban and rural communities. According to a recent article in The Texas Tribune, about 440,000 of the Texas households without access to broadband are in rural Texas. There are entire communities that once relied on connecting to the internet at their local library, many of which have been shuttered by COVID-19. Left with no other options, families and students are desperate to find ways to connect.
This situation is the inspiration for the newly launched “Connect2Educate,” a Texas-based initiative led by a group of leading internet service providers that are committed to providing services to families throughout the state. Connect2Educate is focused on three core areas.
First, we want to support local governments in identifying solutions to help families access reliable internet service. Second, we are committed to working with school districts throughout Texas to provide quality internet service and software support. Finally, Connect2Educate will provide families access to high-performing internet service regardless of their income level.
With the 87th legislative session on the horizon, our elected officials have quite an opportunity to pass meaningful measures to help us deploy the proper infrastructure to get Texans connected in light of our Covid-19 realities. We have a proposed solution to aid them in the process:
- Deployment of Statewide Standardized Fixed Wireless — fixed wireless towers that, we believe, can have Texans online in less than three years, which is a fraction of the amount of time required for running below-ground infrastructure.
- Ensuring our Texas children are protected by proper methods of content-filtering, and meeting the CIPA standards for safety online. We want to ensure this free access for education is not misused for leisurely internet browsing.
- Through the vehicle of public-private partnerships, we will ensure that this system is deployed with proper industry standards for wireless signal dedicated to education, but also realize the vast array of other services it would also be easy to provide such as: Telehealth, workforce development, and overall economic vitality for Texans for generations to come.
- Our solution will provide equal access for all Texas children to have reliable fixed wireless service for their education, delivered and serviced by true internet professionals in partnership with the government.
Texas has been known to the world as a place where pioneers forged the way for prosperity through our innovative and common-sense solutions to problems. Closing the digital divide would be another notch in our belt as Texans, as we come together to solve a major problem faced by America.
Join with Connect2Educate as we embark on this journey to create economic prosperity and an educated citizenry here in the Lone Star State.
J.J. McGrath is the owner and operator of TekWav, a fixed wireless internet service provider. He is also the founder of Connect2Educate, and the state coordinator of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.
Connect2Educate is a coalition to ensure that every student in Texas has access to the internet for their education.