Only a third of rural California households have internet access, compared to 78% of urban households, limiting the number of students who can finish online homework assignments, according to an EdSource analysis analysis of California Public Utilities Commission data.
While low-income families are the most likely to lack internet access because the additional payment is too much, there's also a lack of service providers and options.
The lack of internet access feeds both the homework gap and an achievement gap between rural districts and their wealthier counterparts, though California has invested millions to improve internet access both in schools and communities.
California’s efforts to connect households is paying off. California families with access to the internet only via smartphone dropped from 18% in 2017 to 10% this year, according to a poll.
Districts are also coming up with creative ways to solve the lack of internet. Administrators at Woodlake High, where 86% of students qualify for free- and reduced-lunch, used one-time state funds to put up four cellular antennas for $100,000 throughout the town, allowing students to connect to WiFi using free routers.
There is more good news on the school connectivity front. In its 2019 State of the States Report, EducationSuperHighway declared 99% of the nation’s schools have affordable, reliable broadband connections. Only 743 schools lack connections according to the report, and 90% of districts invested a total of $5 billion in new WiFi networks since the E-rate program was modernized in 2015.
Nationwide, the number of rural families without high-speed Internet access is even lower. About 75% of the U.S. rural population has access, which leaves 14.5 million people without it. The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recently urged lawmakers to develop more initiatives to support digital equity.
The FCC may also consider allowing families without home WiFi to apply for the E-rate program. A Government Accountability Office report suggested the change as a way to bridge the homework gap, which puts students without home internet access at a disadvantage in increasingly digital classrooms.