Friday, May 1, 2015

The Numbers Behind the Broadband 'Homework Gap'

Since the dawn of the internet, there’s been much talk about the digital divide – the gap between those with access to the internet and those without. But what about the “homework gap”?

In recent years, policymakers and advocates have pushed to make it easier for low-income households with school-age children to have broadband, arguing that low-income students are at a disadvantage without online access in order to do school work these days. Later this year, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to begin a rule-making process to overhaul the Lifeline Program, an initiative that subsidizes telephone subscriptions for low-income households, so that it would also cover broadband.

In 2013, the Lifeline program provided $1.8 billion worth of telephone subsidies for qualified low-income people. The FCC has not yet provided estimates of how much it would cost to add broadband subsidies to the program, but the debate will undoubtedly focus on overall program costs and how many households would be covered.

How big is the homework gap? A new Pew Research Center analysis finds most American homes with school-age children do have broadband access – about 82.5% (about 9 percentage points higher than average for all households). With approximately 29 million households in America having children between the ages of 6 and 17, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, this means that some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households – and especially black and Hispanic ones – make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million.

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