By Leslie Ward
Today, learning is in the hands of students, taking place outside of the classroom nearly as much as inside the classroom.
With seemingly endless online resources to tackle everything from spelling tests to algebra, Texas students are more involved in their education than ever before. With these digital tools, the only thing students need is an internet connection, and they can transform any place into a classroom.
Where internet connection goes, education follows. However, 13% of Dallas Independent School District students don’t have high-speed internet access in their homes.
This is known on a national scale as the digital divide. And in the back-to-school season, there is new momentum around connecting students and their families to the internet.
AT&T is committed to removing barriers to internet connectivity — access, affordability and adoption — as the lack of home internet should not come between a student and their education. While we may be called the Lone Star State, we know how to work together, and we need to do so now to remove these barriers.
When looking at the challenges faced by the DISD parents who reported that they don’t have high-speed internet at home, nearly three-quarters reported that the reason was that it was too expensive. Unfortunately, home internet isn’t the only cost that families will need to consider as they gear up for the school year. As we have watched price tags climb on everything from to back-to-school gear to groceries, adding an additional cost to an already-stretched budget is a burden most families can’t carry.
However, there is a federal program many people are unaware of to help get households connected online without a heavy price tag. Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission created the Affordable Connectivity Program to make internet service more affordable. Eligible households can enroll to receive a monthly benefit of $30, or $75 on tribal lands, on their internet service. And now, eligible households in Dallas can combine this benefit with one of our AT&T plans and get free home internet.
While helping to remove the barrier of cost is a start, the road to making high-speed internet a reality for everyone may be a long one. In Texas, we invested more than $7 billion in our wireless and wireline networks from 2019-21, including nearly $3.3 billion in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area. To keep us moving forward, we’re also expanding access by building out broadband infrastructure to areas that are currently lacking access.
To bring connectivity to all Texans, we’re turning to local organizations that know the needs of their communities best.
We support a digital equity initiative led by the Dallas Innovation Alliance. By teaming up with this group of corporations, academia and private individuals, 10,000 community members will be a part of alliance’s new Digital Ambassador program to promote digital inclusion on top of internet access across the city.
Closing the digital divide will take work to remove barriers and to bridge the gap here in Dallas. For our students to be successful this school year, each and every household requires home internet. By knocking down cost barriers, increasing availability and providing digital learning resources, together we can ensure students across Dallas will be set up for success — no matter where learning occurs this school year.
Leslie Ward is the president of AT&T Texas. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. See the guidelines and submit your letter here.