On August 2, 2020 CBS Sunday Morning aired a story called “The Great Broadband Divide: Living Without High-speed Internet Access.” The story is about tens of millions of Americans in rural areas who are unable to obtain broadband internet and illustrates how it hampers business development and people trying to make a living in rural areas across the country. It also puts students at a distinct disadvantage when competing with others who don’t have these limitations, especially in this time of a pandemic.
Broadband is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as achieving a speed of 25 mega bits per second (Mbps). The highest broadband speed available in the US right now is 2000 Mbps, the average speed is 129 Mbps, and 25 Mbps is what the FCC defines as broadband, which is not very fast, especially when streaming video or downloading/uploading large files. According to the FCC there are 20 – 23 million people in the U.S. without broadband, but Microsoft did a study that showed 162 million Americans lack broadband access. Gigi Sohn, who worked at the FCC during the Obama administration explained that “the FCC says is, if you serve one person in a census block, that means you’re serving everybody in the census block.”
A new report on the homework gap by Common Sense Media “Closing the K-12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning,” published in 2020, shows that 29% of Nebraska students, 95,834 of them are lacking adequate high-speed connection. This report also cited that 21%, or 68,888 of all Nebraska students, lack a device to access the internet.
Because the data is not collected at the address-level by student household the measures are elusive, however school districts are being encouraged to collect the data this fall. State Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth, District 32, who introduced a bill (LB996) https://journalstar.com/legislature/fcc-to-invest-20b-in-rural-broadband-senator-wants-nebraska-to-be-first-in-line/article_6d4b173a-d93c-5da7-84cc-a68369a56736.html to create the Broadband Data Improvement Program, will help Nebraska identify areas without high-speed internet. However, we do have the following information from the U.S. Census – American Community Survey from 2018.
This lack of broadband availability in libraries is a focus of the Library Commission’s “Better Broadband for Nebraska Libraries” initiative. Holly Woldt & Cynthia Nigh, along with other agency team members on the Library Infrastructure Broadband Committee are working towards assisting with discovering, advocating and assisting with obtaining funding and providing information to libraries looking for ways to improve their internet speed.
If you would like to see specific information about your county’s broadband statistics follow this link and select your county.