MARIETTA, Ohio — Families without high-speed internet service are missing more than just the ability to download a movie or other entertainment. Every day they miss out on another opportunity — to do important tasks such as finish homework, apply for a job or operate a home business. If your house is in a digital dead zone, you’re not alone. In rural communities around the country, nearly a fourth of the population — more than 14 million people — lacks access to affordable, high-speed internet service, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Appalachian youth are greatly affected by what is referred to by broadband advocates as the “homework gap.”
Jamey Jones, single mother of a sixth grader and rising high school senior from Meigs County, Ohio, is especially concerned about her children’s disconnect with their schools.
“So much online interaction is required by schools now like portals to check grades, homework assignments and study guides for finals.
We have zero internet where we live and no reliable way to get it. After school I haul my kids around to libraries, restaurants and sometimes just bring them back to my office for them to get their homework done. We are exhausted by the time we return home because it’s a half hour drive, and then we get up early to do it all over again,” said Jones in a news release. Jones is not alone. Library parking lots are often full after hours with children doing their homework on laptops in their parents’ cars. Fast food restaurants are another popular homework place.
“I don’t always feed them there because that wouldn’t be a good idea, but many nights I pile the kids in the car and we head to the local burger place to get their homework done,” according to Shawna Roberts in Belmont County, Ohio.
The homework gap and other issues faced by families with subpar connectivity will be discussed at a Town Hall on July 18 at Marietta High School with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. The Commissioner will be there listening to citizens describe ways that the lack of broadband access affects their community as part of her national listening tour, “Connecting Communities: Bridging the Communications and Opportunities Divide.” The event begins at 6 p.m. with doors opening at 5 p.m. The event is open to everyone. The town hall format will be informal, with Clyburn addressing the audience and then listening to those who have connectivity issues, concerns and complaints. She has been a champion of widening broadband connectivity nationwide, and she hopes to hear from residents, business owners, school administrators, town council members, health-care workers, and anyone else who wants to share their story.
If you have a story you’d like to share in advance of the event, please contact the town hall organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-274-1146. The town hall will cap a day of workshops and panels in which county officials and community leaders from across Appalachia brainstorm ways to get their communities connected. For more information on either the summit or town hall, go to www.ruralassembly.org/broadband-marietta.
Information provided by Liz Shaw, one of the town hall organizers.