How to help LA students get fast internet — and not rely on Starbucks’ Wi-Fi to do homework

By Brian Hardzinski

“The problem is greatest in low-income communities and communities of color, which often only have one provider. So without strong competition, regulation, or incentive to serve low-income communities, internet providers maximize profits by offering lower-quality services at higher prices,” explains Ryan Smith, Chief External Officer of Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, an organization that’s trying to get broadband into LA homes. Photo by Shutterstock.

On Monday, 600,000 public school students in LA went back to physical classrooms after a year and a half of the pandemic. But many opted to continue online learning at home, which would likely require high-speed internet. That’s difficult in some neighborhoods without access to quality broadband.

Last month, at a school in rural Tulare County, Governor Newsom signed legislation to try to address that. “You know we’re at a school because of the superintendent’s leadership — that has fiber. But the superintendent noted that just across the street, people are still using dial-up. Says it all,” said Newsom.

What would it take to get high-speed internet to every California student?

Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is an organization that’s trying to get broadband into homes.

“Unfortunately this is almost like modern-day redlining,” says Chief External Officer Ryan Smith. “And the problem is greatest in low-income communities and communities of color, which often only have one provider. So without strong competition, regulation, or incentive to serve low-income communities, internet providers maximize profits by offering lower-quality services at higher prices.”

Smith recalls a family in Watts who moved into their new apartment and called the single available internet service provider (ISP) to set up their web connection.

“Unfortunately they said they couldn’t give them service because the residents before them didn’t pay their bill. Even though they said they were new customers, they said until the past bill was actually paid, they wouldn’t provide them service,” he says. 

One idea from Smith: Districts or ISPs should offer discounted internet using the same benchmarks to provide students with free and reduced-price lunches. He says ISPs have the necessary data on speed and service, but should be incentivized to share that with school districts.

“Instead of a family having to prove their eligibility, they [could] say, ‘We know who’s low-income.’ Why not just pre-qualify all these families?”

Credits

Guest:

  • Ryan Smith - Chief External Officer, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools