Recently, I observed all three of my children (middle and high school ages) engaged in the following evening activities:
- Watching a Khan Academy video to clarify a concept while doing homework
- Text messaging classmates (and a teacher!) about assignments
- Sharing electronic photos of study guides
- Facetiming with a classmate to discuss a school project
- Submitting homework electronically
- Taking an online quiz and reviewing materials for a test the next day
- Checking grades and confirming that an assignment had been submitted
I don’t know what is more remarkable: The fact that they were engaged in all of this activity, or the fact that it did not seem all that remarkable to me at the time. Looking back, I can see that a seismic shift has occurred. My own high school homework routine looked nothing like this. Yet, from the perspective of my children, there was nothing extraordinary about this evening. It is, after all, how life functions for them. It is how they research, collaborate, study, prepare projects, submit assignments, and so on.
I resisted the urge to ask them (in my best dad voice) about the “success of their collaboration activities.” I don’t know that they stop to classify these behaviors as such. It just happens. The information flows. Text messages are shared. Websites are found. It’s organic. It’s wonderful. And I am so grateful that my children have access to these tools and resources. It is changing their lives– for the better — and most of this new world I already take for granted.
But there is something else I often take for granted. Too often, I assume that everyone has that same access, that same wonderful new world of possibilities and information at their fingertips. Sadly, that is not the case. According to Pew Research, a third of all households in America lack broadband Internet access, and nearly half of those without Internet do so not out of choice but because they can’t afford it.
Personally, I do not want to imagine my life without the Internet. Because of it, I am connected to important people and to vital resources all day long. Thanks to the Internet I communicate more with my family. I am able to work with a fantastic team of people who support clients in all corners of the country. I can access data, participate in commerce, stay in touch with old friends, book flights, find my children, make better informed decisions faster…. and on, and on, and on… all because of the Internet. And I am not alone. I see and hear testimonials time and again about the significant, positive impact that the Internet plays in the lives of just about every individual that I meet.
If someone told me today that my family would not be allowed to access the Internet, I would not stand for it. I know how important Internet connectivity is to our lives and to my children’s future. I would not accept “no Internet” for my family.
Yet, as a society, there are millions of families facing this very dilemma. There are students, like many in Beaufort County, South Carolina, who leave school and find themselves isolated, alone on the wrong side of the digital divide. I would not accept this for my own family, and I am repulsed by the notion that some must. Internet access should not be considered a luxury, any more than access to electricity or clean water should be. Internet connectivity is an essential element in today’s society.
Keeping Americans connected is important. That is why I believe in the mission of the Universal Service Fund. That is why I am so proud to be a part of an organization like Funds For Learning. That is why I support President Obama’s ConnectALL Initiative. That is why I applaud groups like CoSN and others who are leading the charge to address issues of Digital Equity…
And that is why I support the FCC’s reform of the Lifeline program. I want every student, not just some, to share in the opportunities that the Internet provides. It is time that we bring broadband Internet home for every family in America.