Closing the Digital Divide

Closing the Digital Divide

Closing

Dallas ranks sixth in the nation – and number one in Texas – among major cities with low internet adoption rates. The pandemic exposed the importance of reliable home internet access, especially for students. Internet access is increasingly critical for employment, education, and healthcare opportunities.
Survey results showed
18% of economically disadvantaged families in Dallas don’t have home internet access
27% of families in the Dallas area have internet service that is below the minimum federal standard and therefore inadequate for remote learning
93% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that anchor institutions like Dallas have a role to play in addressing these gap.
A unique opportunity
Dallas ISD can potentially leverage several federal and state programs to improve connectivity for its students and families. To develop the best strategy, Dallas ISD and the City of Dallas partnered to commission a feasibility study by an expert independent consultant.
Efforts to date
To ensure the continuity of instructional services during the pandemic, Dallas ISD offered an iPad, Chromebook or laptop for every student, along with the necessary software and security tools for remote learning. The district also provided mobile internet hotspots to more than 40,000 families lacking sufficient home internet access.
Dallas ISD also launched a pilot private cellular network in five highly impacted school communities to explore innovative wireless solutions.
Looking forward
The feasibility study is equity focused and emphasizes the importance of a targeted and prioritized approach going forward. The study includes several major recommendations.
Expand the private cellular network for student home access
One recommended strategy is to scale the district’s private cellular network being piloted at Lincoln High School and four other school communities. This strategy would construct an antenna or tower and related radio equipment on top of targeted district schools, providing high-speed home network access to families living within proximity to the school. At full scale, this network could serve about 80 percent of Dallas ISD students.
Leverage low-cost programs and bulk-purchase opportunities
Charter’s Spectrum Internet Assist program, AT&T’s Access program, and the federal government’s Lifeline and Emergency Broadband benefit programs offer opportunities for qualifying residents to receive low-cost or discounted home internet services. These programs are underutilized in
Dallas. The district and its coalition partners could help connect families with these resources.
Also, the District is considering a bulk purchase of broadband services for students, potentially with financial support from the new federal Emergency Connectivity Fund.
Build digital skills
Survey data reflect interest among respondents in becoming more confident with computers, smartphones, and the internet, or in using online resources to find trustworthy information. The report recommends expanding the City’s Digital Navigators program to support community organizations with the capacity needed to enable digital skills training.
Also, Dallas ISD and the City of Dallas could consider partnerships to establish a pilot program to purchase refurbished devices and make them available to families for a low cost. And the creation of a “learn to earn” pilot program could provide families the opportunity for participants to undergo a computer and internet skills training course and, at the completion of the course, the participant could keep the device on which they learned, for free.

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