School iPads not much use to students without home Internet

Hamilton County, Tennessee provided free tablets and laptops to thousands of public school students. According to school officials, though, there’s a major drawback in the plan. “Many of the students, once home with their brand-new devices, don't have Internet access and likely won't get it,” said the local newspaper.

The problem, not surprisingly, is concentrated in low-income areas. About 2 ,000 iPads and Chromebooks – funded by the Public Education Foundation [PEF] and the Benwood Foundation – were given to students in six schools. However, as Keri Randolph of PEF noted, 30 to 40 percent of the recipients have no home Internet.

A lot of these kids are transient," she told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, “Even if they have a home connection this month, they might not have it the next month.”

Officials found that some motivated students without home Internet often find ways to connect: libraries, neighbors, McDonalds. But too many were just stuck at home with a non-functioning device.

As Speed Matters reported recently, there are several government plans to address this problem. FCC Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn wants to expand the federal Lifeline program to include home Internet as well as telephone. And Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL) hopes to provide low-income students in public housing with home Internet, using the same system of assistance that underwrites other necessities.

But for the present, the Tennessee experience shows that merely handing out appliances does not in itself close the digital divide.

Lack of home Internet access hinders students with school-provided iPads (Chattanooga Times-Free Press, Dec. 23, 2014)

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

A federal bill to close the digital divide for students (Speed Matters, Dec. 19, 2014)