Since I am part of the committee that develops technology policies for the district, a frequent concern is the technology gap for students in the district. Schools increasingly ask students to use the Internet for school assignments, which is reasonable to prepare the students for their future; however, some students have a barrier to completion.
This week the topic has also been a trend in education and mainstream news. I read an article from The Wall Street Journal “The Web-Deprived Study at McDonald’s” and from Education Week “Equal Internet Access is a K12 Must-Have.”
Both mentioned that many students in poor or rural areas do not have access to reliable Internet services. The EdWeek article referenced a government publication that explores the trends and data of our digital nation – I may be a dork, but I plan on reading many of the 74 pages when I have a change. Many people have turned to places that offer free wi-fi.
McDonald’s is one of the easiest solutions to find. Starbucks and Panera Bread are other locations that provide free wi-fi to all customers on a national scale. Right after college I survived without Internet or cable TV. I spent many hours in both Starbucks and Panera. However, it would have been more of a struggle if I did not have Internet while I was a student. There is a website that lists locations by city that offer free wi-fi. At least one of the local places on the Free Wi-Fi Hotspots website are no longer in business, but it is another place to find connections. Of course, you have to have an Internet connection to view the website.
I checked the cost per month for three local providers: each of the prices had a catch. Comcast only provided the price for the first 6 months. Verizon quoted a price if you added Voice Services. Clear requires a one time equipment purchase price. If I had a restricted budget, all of these would be out of the comfort range. So what other options do families have?
I remember reading in my local newspaper last year about a reduced Internet rate for families that have documented need. Comcast offers Internet Essentials to families that qualify for the Free and Reduced School Lunch program. For qualifying families, the cost per month is $9.99 + tax. This is more realistic. The price also includes computer training/help, potential discounts on a netbook, and the Internet connection. I wonder how many families are taking advantage of this. Yes, it is $10 a month, but most families (even on a tight budget) waste more than that a month. I also wonder why is there not more competition driving down prices? The astronomical prices charged per month for things like Internet and cable are not reflective of the cost to the provider. Maybe they should spend less money on ads and win customers the old-fashioned way, of just providing great service.