With most educational institutions closing their doors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and moving classes to online platforms, it is vital for schools, districts, and universities to consider the impact this shift will have on the large number of New Mexicans who lack a home broadband connection or reliable computing devices. Despite the fact that cell phones are prevalent and most young people appear adept with technology, 1 in 3 rural residents still do not have a broadband connection at home and/or lack adequate computing devices (laptops) for online learning. The impact of the coronavirus on businesses and local entities has added to these challenges, as the closure of libraries and coffee shops has made access to public wifi in remote areas more difficult than ever.
National research has been pointing to these disparities in online access for several years. But the full impact of these digital inequities has now been underscored by the response to the coronavirus. As a recent op-ed by Rutgers University professor Vikki Katz notes, the disadvantages faced by the “under-connected” mean that, when learning moves online, they will be less able to access and complete work, or to have the resources necessary to overcome these challenges.
To make online learning equally accessible to all, we must work to provide broadband access, computer devices, and the skills needed to use them to everyone. In New Mexico, many of the Internet Service Providers are responding to this need by offering free service and wifi hotspots during this public health crisis. A complete listing of providers and their current offers, compiled by the New Mexico Department of Information Technology, is posted on the New Mexico Public Education Department coronavirus webpage. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has also begun compiling a multi-state listing of free and low-cost internet plans available to people during this outbreak.
Online access has become especially important during the current virus outbreak. One of the many ways in which we can support each other most is by assisting colleagues and neighbors in finding available, affordable broadband service and computing equipment.
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