Internet Access Resources
One of Virginia PTA's long standing advocacy priorities has been to address the digital divide, often referred to as the homework gap. Digital learning and connectivity at school and at home enables students to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs and levels the playing field for students regardless of their affluence level or geographic location. The COVID-19 crisis brought the digital divide into sharp focus as 14% of Virginia's K-12 students didn't have access to internet and 12% didn't have a computer in their home at the start of the pandemic due to both accessibility and affordability issues.
In 2021 Virginia PTA's active advocacy and collaboration with coalition partners resulted in a historic $100M investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) which provides grant funds to local governments to expand high-speed internet access in unserved areas. Additionally, Virginia PTA successfully advocacted for afforability programs that have provided new federal and state level discounts for low-income families.
Below are resources and information you can reference to help your family access high-speed, affordable internet.
What is Broadband?
Broadband is a term used to refer to high-speed internet provided via multiple types of technologies including fiber optics, wireless, cable, DSL and satellite. Broadband Internet Service Providers can be local telephone companies, cable companies, local providers of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or fiber connections, a wireless or satellite company, or an electrical utility for Broadband over Power Line (BPL). Who you will contact to obtain internet service depends on your needs and the technology available in your community.
- Fiber to the Home: Transmits large amounts of data using pulses of light that run through strands of glass fiber at high speeds. This is the fastest type of internet.
- Cable: Transmits data over the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to your TV.
- Wireless broadband (Wi-Fi Hotspots): Connects you to the internet using radio signals instead of cables. Many school divisions provided families with WiFi Hotspots during the height of the pandemic. To use a mobile wi-fi device you need to have cell phone service from the provider of the WiFi Hotspot.
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL): Transmits data using electric signals over traditional copper phone lines
- Satellite: Often used in rural areas, data is transmitted via a communication satellite mounted on your home.
What is Considered High-Speed?
According to the Federal Communications Commission, the definition of broadband internet is a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. The download speed tells you how quickly your internet service sends information to your device, and the upload speed tells you how quickly you are transmitting data to another device. To fully participate in on-line classes with little lag, you might want to consider a broadband plan that provides 100 Mbps download and 25-100 Mbps upload.
Are There Affordability Programs?
Yes, federal stimulus funds created the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help Americans stay connected to the internet during the pandemic. The US national average price for broadband is $50/month for 100 Mpbs service.
Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. The benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
Eligible households must both apply for the program AND contact a participating provider to select a service plan.
UPDATE Nov 2021: Congress recently created the Affordable Connectivity Program, a new, long-term $14 billion program that will replace the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Households enrolled in the EBB Program as of 12/31/21 will continue to receive their current monthly benefit during a 60-day transition period. Under the new program, Households with incomes up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines will be eligible on Jan. 1 vs the current eligibility at 135 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Under the new program. eligible families will receive $30 a month instead of $50 per month. Additionally under the new program companies will be required to provide standard labeling for internet download and upload speeds, monthly service costs, taxes, any equipment and other fees. The Affordable Connectivity Program also allocates $42.5 billion to bring high-speed internet to unserved areas at speeds of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads and $2.75 billion for digital literacy training.