Pew study details "homework gap"

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that “some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home,” and that low-income households “make-up a disproportionate share of that 5 million.”

The report continues:

Roughly one-third (31.4%) of households whose incomes fall below $50,000 and with children ages 6 to 17 do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. This low-income group makes up about 40% of all families with school-age children in the United States… By comparison, only 8.4% of households with annual incomes over $50,000 lack a broadband internet connection at home. In other words, low-income homes with children are four times more likely to be without broadband than their middle or upper-income counterparts.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued a response to the findings, describing “the Homework Gap” as “the cruelest part of the new digital divide” between those with and without reliable broadband access:

There was a time when doing basic schoolwork required no more than a little bit of quiet, a clear workspace, and a pencil. No more. Today, 7 in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access. Kids may be connected in the classroom, but if they are disconnected at home getting basic schoolwork done is hard.

That same day, FCC Commissioner Clyburn gave a speech at the Rural Broadband Association Annual Legislative Conference. She added to Rosenworcel’s comments and explained why universal broadband is a social necessity:

Today, broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity to find a job, monitor your healthcare, get an education, communicate with loved ones and participate in this society. The challenge, or should I say the goal, we face as a nation is how to ensure universal access to broadband comparable to the way we achieved universal access to telephone service... What is too rarely stated is the fact that the principle of ensuring universal access to low-income consumers shares equal weight in the statute with the principle that high cost, rural and insular areas should have access to reasonably comparable service at reasonably comparable rates to urban areas.

The Pew report, along with the statements from FCC officials, reiterate the need for the FCC to update the federal Lifeline program. Lifeline currently provides telephone subsidies to low-income people. It is long past time to update the program, to include subsidies for broadband service. As we’ve written before, the digital divide is primarily an economic one, and we fully support the original intent of the Lifeline program – to provide universal access to current communication technology.

Read Speed Matters’ past reporting on the Lifeline program below.


Expand Lifeline to include broadband (Speed Matters, Mar. 16, 2015)

Civil rights group urges expansion and improvement of Lifeline (Speed Matters, Mar. 18, 2015)


Now to complete the promise of Lifeline (Speed Matters, Feb. 16, 2014)


The numbers behind the broadband ‘homework gap’ (Pew Research Center, Apr. 20, 2015)


Statement of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on Pew Research Center Homework Gap Findings (FCC, Apr. 20, 2015)


Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s remarks to NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association Annual Legislative Conference (FCC, Apr. 20, 2015)