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The Appalachian mountain ranges of Eastern Kentucky.
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Slow Speeds, High Hopes: Exploring the Rural Broadband Gap

Millions of students in rural America are falling behind in school and beyond, simply because high-speed internet is unreliable or unavailable in their communities. This is the rural broadband gap.

By Jessica Fregni

Photo by Jacob Biba

January 17, 2020

It’s easy to take the internet for granted. But for many students in rural communities, access to high-speed internet at home can be sparse and expensive, or sometimes not even an option at all. 

This makes it next to impossible for millions of students across America to get their homework done without workaround solutions. And so they race to finish their paper and upload it from the local library before their computer time-use limit is up. They use up their mobile data plan to do research for a project on their phone. And they rely on the local Subway’s late night hours and Wi-Fi network to put the finishing touches on their presentations.

This divide between students who do have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t is known as the rural broadband gap or the homework gap, and it’s taking a toll on students who are already vulnerable to the economic hardship present in many rural counties and small towns. But rural communities around the country are fighting to get their children the resources they need to thrive in the digital age. 

To learn about the rural broadband gap and how it is playing out in one of the regions Teach For America partners with, I visited three communities in Eastern Kentucky where this digital disparity is posing unique challenges to education—and leading to inventive solutions. 

In this three-part series, you will meet teachers, principals, business owners, and community leaders in Appalachia who are deeply invested in creating and supporting homegrown answers to the rural broadband gap. You will hear from students who are finding novel ways to stay connected despite the digital divide. And you will learn about leaders who are working tirelessly to ensure that students in Appalachia are empowered to pursue their passions and gifts without having to go elsewhere. 

They are dedicated to this work because they know the future and vibrancy of their communities rely on it, and because their students are worth it. Read on to learn about the work being done in Appalachia.

How Rural Students Are Left Behind in the Digital Age

The rural broadband gap is one of the biggest educational obstacles for rural communities, and it has consequences for students and teachers alike.  


This Community Set Out to Bridge the Digital Divide

Slow internet was hindering students in one Eastern Kentucky county, so the community came together to do something about it.


What's Possible for Appalachia's Schools When Internet Isn't an Issue?

Some schools in Eastern Kentucky are equipped with state of the art classroom technology and the high-speed internet necessary to run it, allowing them to focus on preparing students for a 21st-century future in the region.



How essential is internet access to you? To your students? Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #WithoutWIFI. 


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