McCormick: Fixing internet access gaps ‘just as important as I-69 being paved’

With some Indiana students continuing to do schoolwork on paper while their classmates take part in video conferences with teachers, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick says the state must make critical investments to ensure all families have internet access.

“This infrastructure is just as important as [Interstate] 69 being paved,” McCormick said Tuesday in a live-streamed address to the media. “We need to make sure that all citizens have access to the internet. … It’s crippling if as a state we don’t take care of it.”

Without a comprehensive statewide effort to get all students online during the coronavirus crisis, districts have largely been tasked with filling the gaps when it comes to computers and home internet access.

Some school systems have distributed hundreds of devices that would typically stay in classrooms, given out mobile wireless hotspots, and set up Wi-Fi in school parking lots so students can do their work from their cars.

It’s unclear exactly how many families statewide can’t get online, but not all school districts have the technology or the money to guarantee universal access. Even when students do have the technology necessary to log on, some low-income families can’t take advantage of free internet offers because of outstanding bills with service providers, Chalkbeat recently revealed.

“This is not a school issue,” McCormick said. “The access, in my opinion, is a statewide issue. That’s our infrastructure that we should be putting significant dollars behind.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb has said his office is working alongside the state Department of Education to help individual districts. Last week, he said the state would deal with issues reported to his office on a case-by-case basis.

When asked by Chalkbeat on Tuesday, Holcomb responded to McCormick’s call by saying the state’s infrastructure needs are “a balance.” He pointed to his $100 million initiative to expand broadband access in rural areas of the state. His administration began giving out grants last year.

“We have been way out in front in terms of internet connections,” he said.

In Indiana, 77.6% of households have a broadband internet subscription, according to 2018 American Community Survey data—putting the state below the national average of 80.4%.

In New York, pressure from local officials spurred an internet provider to waive its policy barring families with unpaid bills from receiving 60 days of free internet access. In California, the governor worked with tech companies and philanthropists to provide 100,000 free Wi-Fi access points and 70,000 devices for students.

When asked Tuesday about potential statewide solutions, Katie Jenner, Holcomb’s senior education adviser, pointed to a local effort between the city of Indianapolis and local philanthropists. They pooled more than $2 million to support expanding e-learning for school districts in Marion County.

“Connectivity will continue to be a priority for our state as we look not only locally to rural school districts, but also as we look to urban school districts,” Jenner said.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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3 thoughts on “McCormick: Fixing internet access gaps ‘just as important as I-69 being paved’

  1. This is a major issue not just for schools, but also for businesses and everyone. There are major coverage gaps even inside metropolitan areas and few statewide have access to speeds higher than 100mpbs. More business and entertainment, and now education, occurs online and people need enough speed and reliability to partake. bWhen the state is seeking infrastructure projects, investing in fiber in populated areas and quality internet runs to rural areas are prime targets.

  2. Good luck believing this falsehood. I started a rural high-speed broadband company (Omnicity), and poured millions of $’s, went to Washington DC, and had appointments with both Lugar and Burton,(they sent their assistants). Everybody, including Obama, was going to give hundreds of millions to small startups, etc. We did have great support from the REMC’s and that was it. The company went bankrupt believing all of the f” fairy tales!”

  3. We have been getting lip service for years about high speed internet for all. As a resident of a rural area about 7 miles from the nearest town with fiber, the best anyone can manage to provide is DSL at 1.6 mbps if you’re lucky and not at the far end of the pipe. It’s literally impossible to stream media, and working from home requires extra time compared to doing the work at the office. The only other alternative for us is satellite, at twice the cost and often even more unreliable. I sincerely hope the pandemic will light a fire under someone to finally address this issue so that we no longer live on the dark side of the digital divide.

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