Rural students getting short shrift

As we continue this forced shutdown for school districts across the state, there is a seriously unfair digital divide between the students who live in cities and suburbs, and the many outlying small rural schools.

Some of the larger schools are talking about continuing to educate their students remotely, via video conferencing and remote access learning tools. But there is a huge number of rural students for whom this is going to be impossible, and they are going to be left behind in the coming weeks and months.

We are long past the point that having high-speed broadband internet access to the home can be considered a luxury, and yet there are thousands of students in rural areas who lack inexpensive high-speed wired internet with no data caps, the same as is available to children who live in and around cities.

Somehow in the 1960s to 1970s, telephone companies were able to provide private phone service to every rural customer, upgrading everyone from the old shared party lines used on farms. They installed thousands of miles of copper trunk cable and remote digital “T-carrier” hardware to make this work.

And yet now these same telephone companies complain that it is just impossible for them to go back and also install high-speed fiber optic cable to every rural customer. Now somehow it just costs too much to repeat what they previously did for every rural farm some 50 years ago.

And so now in this time of crisis, thousands of rural children are going to be left behind in their education, because multi-billion-dollar, multi-state corporations continue to refuse to provide the critically important and necessary wired broadband upgrades needed by their captive rural customers.

Dale Mahalko