We published our first profile of the largest cable and telecom providers in 2018, where we detailed the lack of real choices most Americans had when it came to high-quality, reliable broadband. At the time, we found that for the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) investment was correlated to competition rather than the regulatory environment. Monopoly ISPs expanded their Fiber-to-the-Home networks only in areas where they faced competition, and rural Americans were left behind as a result.
Cooperatives have been doing a lot over the last few months to advance connectivity efforts around the country. That trend is continuing in Virginia, where Prince George Electric Cooperative (PGEC) and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative (NNEC) have announced partnerships with utility provider Dominion Energy to expand broadband access to thousands living and working in rural areas in the state.
Millions of students do not have access to adequate connectivity, but Black, Latinx, and Native children are disproportionately impacted by the “homework gap." One study found that children in one out of every three Black, Latinx, and Native American households did not have broadband access at home. These disparities are even more pressing during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has turned the homework gap into a chasm.
Yesterday in an announcement via livestream, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hamilton County Schools, and the fiber arm of municipal utility Electric Power Board (EPB) announced a partnership to provide free Internet access and hardware to the 17,700 homes with school children on free or reduced lunch programs in the county. Called HCS EdConnect, the initiative will be the first of its kind in the United States — a success story at using a city-wide network to bridge the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students, and a decisive move to respond to unequal Internet access during a worldwide public health crisis.