For too long, the digital divide has put far too many students at an unfair disadvantage, and it's about time to seriously address that gap, as seen on this keyboard with a digital divide key

The U.S. needs billions to close the digital divide

For too long, the digital divide has put far too many students at an unfair disadvantage, and it's about time to seriously address that gap

“Fundamentally, this is a matter of equity that requires leadership at all levels—from the federal government to local communities,” says Raymond C. Pierce, president and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation. “Some of the most successful efforts to bridge this divide have involved school districts working in partnership with local organizations and community advocates to meet families where they are, and to ensure access to the internet and the other technology students need to learn remotely.”

As students return to the classroom–and vaccines bring hope for a post-pandemic future–the momentum to eliminate the digital divide must continue to drive the strong and equitable economic growth necessary to advance society as a whole.

“This is not a short-term problem. The digital divide predated COVID-19 and will persist beyond it without further action,” says Lane McBride, a BCG managing director and partner leading the firm’s Education, Employment, and Welfare Engagement sector within the Public Sector practice in North America, and a co-author of the report. “We need leaders in government, corporations, philanthropies, and the education sector to seize the moment and work together on practical and lasting solutions.”

Key findings

  1. Closing the digital divide is a fundamental equity issue, essential to the future of our economy and society.
  2. Long-term solutions must address the needs of 15 to 16 million K-12 students who were affected by the divide when the pandemic began.
  3. State and district efforts have been significant but insufficient; up to 12 million K-12 students remained under-connected going into 2021.
  4. Solutions have largely been temporary measures; more than 75 percent of these efforts will expire in the next one to three years.
  5. Long-term solutions must address all three root causes of the divide: lack of available broadband, lack of affordability, and non-technical, non-financial barriers to adoption such as lack of digital skills or distrust of providers.
  6. Closing the divide requires $6 to $11 billion for the first year, and $4 to $8 billion annually thereafter to address affordability and adoption gaps, as well as additional investment in universal broadband infrastructure.
  7. Federal and state policy should enable expanded investment in broadband infrastructure, sustained federal funding ensuring affordable options, bulk procurement and transparent pricing, community-based support for digital inclusion, and ongoing measurement.
  8. Cross-sector partnerships among public, private and social sectors are essential to close the digital divide–and keep it closed.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione

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