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Three Million US Students Lack Home Internet

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Raegan Byrd tries to complete her school homework every night. But the high school student in Hartford, Connecticut, uses her mobile phone because she does not have a computer or internet at home.

Smartphones can connect to the internet. But they have small screens. Byrd has a hard time switching between websites, and messages sent from friends. She says she tries to write school papers on her phone. But when there are internet connectivity problems, she writes them by hand, she told the Associated Press.

The AP studied information from the U.S. census and found that nearly 3 million students in the United States do not have internet at home. That is about 17 percent of all U.S. students. Eighteen percent of students do not have home access to broadband internet.

FILE: Computer science teacher Sheena York, center, helps fifth grade students work on programming during their weekly computer science lesson at Marshall Elementary School in Marysville, Wash. Photo taken Nov. 4, 2015 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
FILE: Computer science teacher Sheena York, center, helps fifth grade students work on programming during their weekly computer science lesson at Marshall Elementary School in Marysville, Wash. Photo taken Nov. 4, 2015 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Nearly all American students have access to computers and the internet in their schools. But at home, the cost of internet service, and sometimes the lack of availability, create problems in rural areas, and even cities. Some call the problem, "the homework gap."

How the homework gap hurts students

Until a few years ago, Raegan's school gave every student a laptop equipped with an internet hot spot—providing them with internet. But the money for the program ran out.

School districts, local governments in Connecticut and others have tried to help. Districts put wireless internet on buses and created hotspots. Many communities made lists of restaurants and other businesses with Wi-Fi places where children are welcome to come and do their homework.

In this May 8, 2019, photo, Riley Shaw talks about his family's internet at his home outside Starkville, Miss. The satellite dish allows a certain amount of high-speed data each month and then slows to a crawl. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
In this May 8, 2019, photo, Riley Shaw talks about his family's internet at his home outside Starkville, Miss. The satellite dish allows a certain amount of high-speed data each month and then slows to a crawl. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Some students study in the parking lots of schools, libraries or restaurants — wherever they can find a signal.

Another option for communities is to provide access through unused television frequencies. The Hartford Public Library plans to try that next year.

The National Center for Education Statistics suggests that students with home internet get better scores in reading, math and science than ones who do not. The homework gap can hurt the poor and minority students, creating barriers to their education.

Janice Flemming-Butler is an activist who has researched barriers to internet access in Hartford. She said it is a big injustice for minority students not to have equal access to the internet.

Susan Johnston is an English teacher in Harford. She said using paper and chalkboards is not a good idea. She thinks students really need to learn to use technology "because it's not going away."

The U.S. Department of Education gathered statistics in 2017 and released its findings in May. It found that the number of households without internet has been getting smaller, but 14 percent of homes in city areas and 18 percent of homes in rural areas still lack internet connections. About 33 percent of homes with school-age children that do not have internet say money is the reason.

A commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, called the homework gap "the cruelest part of the digital divide."

May 8, 2019, photograph, Sharon Stidham, standing, talks to her sons Graham, center, and Miles, front, as they use the laptops at East Webster High School to do homework in Maben, Miss. The internet signal does not reach their house. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
May 8, 2019, photograph, Sharon Stidham, standing, talks to her sons Graham, center, and Miles, front, as they use the laptops at East Webster High School to do homework in Maben, Miss. The internet signal does not reach their house. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In rural northern Mississippi, home internet is not available for some whether they can pay for it or not.

Sharon Stidham takes her four boys to the school library at East Webster High School. Her husband works there, so they can use the internet for schoolwork. A cellphone tower can be seen through the trees from their home, but the internet signal does not reach their house.

A third of the 294 households in Maben, Mississippi, have no computer and close to half have no internet.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

And I'm Anne Ball.

Michal Melia, Jeff Amy and Larry Fenn wrote this story for the Associated Press. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English.

Do you have internet access at your home? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section below.

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Words in This Story

access – n. a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone

broadband internet – n. high speed internet that is faster than traditional dial-up access

gap – n. a space between two people or things

hot spot – n. a device that allows a computer to connect to public wifi

district – n. an area established by a government for official government business

frequency – n. technical : the number of times that something (such as a sound wave or radio wave) is repeated in a period of time (such as a second)

score – n. the number of points that someone gets for correct answers on a test, exam or class

chalkboard – n. a kind of blackboard used mostly in classrooms to write instructions on in chalk

digital – adj. showing the time with numbers instead of with hour and minute hands

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