News

Digital divide hits small towns hard

By Damien Willis, Las Cruces Sun-News
May 10th, 2016

digital divide

In New Mexico, educators and policymakers are working to close the digital opportunity gap

It’s after dark, and Angel Banegas sits in the parking lot at Hatch Valley High School. Angel, a sophomore, has a homework assignment that’s due at midnight, and this is the only way he’s able to turn it in.

“Better internet would help tremendously in our community,” Angel said. “Personally, I do not have any type of internet at home. When we have assignments, such as typed essays, I am not able to work on the assignment at home. I’m sure that other students in the Hatch community have this problem as well.”

While 96 percent of Americans in urban areas have access to fixed broadband, only 70 percent of New Mexicans have broadband access at home. In rural communities, the problem is even worse — only one in three can access the internet at home.

“Unfortunately, the digital divide is a very real barrier to success in our community,” said Audra Bluehouse, an English teacher at Hatch Valley High. “We are very fortunate to have a school district that supports technology in the classroom and provides extended computer lab hours, one-to-one access to laptops and desktops, and online learning resources for teachers to enrich their curriculum and lesson plans.”

The Hatch Valley schools receive the FCC’s E-Rate initiative, which reimburses schools and libraries for expenses related to internet access. However, students may have no internet access when they get home. Some students reportedly do their homework in the parking lot at Pic Quik, which offers free Wi-Fi access. Others spend long hours studying in the computer labs at the Doña Ana Community College Hatch Learning Center, adjacent to the high school.

“Before the DACC (Learning Center) was created in our town, students would have to stay after school to finish any assignments due that day,” said Anette Rascon, a sophomore at Hatch Valley High. “This would actually take hours due to the slow internet. Many of the students would get frustrated and give up on their work because the computers took an eternity to process one simple task.”

Next page: What policymakers are doing to close the digital divide