Bridging the digital divide encompasses a greater scope than simply bringing technology to rural areas. The digital divide is about served and under served. While overall urban populations have had technological opportunities before rural areas, there are still urban populations in the communities of Washington that do not have access to high-quality telecommunications services. and it's members aim to help bridge these divides through providing K-12 schools and other education institutions with the resources to excel.
Bringing bandwidth technologies that allow access to the internet into the classroom is critical for keeping up with the latest educational tools. Imagine a classroom where 30 devices can easily connect to the web and engage in learning interfaces together. Or connecting the classroom and family through interfaces where classroom learning is seamlessly extended into the home, inviting engagement and enriching classroom experiences though extension activities. Imagine students being invited to research information on their own to encourage dimension and diversity into classroom discussions. These can become reality through high quality broadband implementation and technological infusion in our schools.
"It is a simple fact that access to high-speed broadband is now as vital a component of K-12 school infrastructure as electricity, air conditioning, and heating. The same tools and resources that have transformed our personal, civic, and professional lives must be a part of learning experiences intended o prepare today's students for college and careers"
- The Broadband Imperative, SETDA (2012)
The State of Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has defined a clear goal for public schools alignment with technological instruction tools: "the realization of a 21st century learning environment for every student who enrolls in a Washington State K-12 public school." Technological literacy is increasingly prerequisite for students to pursuing higher education as well as those preparing to engage careers. OSPI also sites the applications of technology in the classroom that encourage collaborative scholarship, project-based learning as well as critical thinking skills all of which are essential skills for higher education. Without high-quality broadband services being affordable and accessible to Washington State's schools and homes, the benefits of technology will be greatly hindered.
According to Pew Research Center's 2013 analysis of the 2013 American Community Survey, there is a massive disparity between broadband access in the home for families with annual incomes above and below $50,000.
In homes with school aged children and an annual income of $50,000 or more, over 91% of households had access to high speed internet at home compared to less than 69% of households below that annual income level. There are also disparities along ethnic lines, with households that identified as Asian having the greatest access to broadband in the home, followed by White families, and with households that identified as Black or Hispanic having the lowest levels of high speed internet access at home. It is imperative that broadband access is available, affordable, and quality for all populations in our state both at home and in schools.
Through the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant, was able to extend a network aimed at bridging the digital divide in unserved and underserved Washington communities, including schools. Our mission and focus continues to be to leveraging relationships and resources to develop and operate a world class open access information technology platform and network that enhances people's lives.