South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced a new program last week that will provide internet service at no cost to eligible K-12 students in their homes for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
We read stories all the time about the "digital gap" in which some Americans have robust internet service at their home or business while others don't. The gap is sometimes associated with rural vs. city availability of service, or an income difference.
Substantial progress has been made to close that gap, as many rural telephone providers or rural electric co-ops are providing faster internet service to more places outside cities and towns.
But the COVID-19 pandemic puts the issue front and center. Because some South Dakota schools have switched to remote learning, most of them on a temporary basis, then students are required to logon to the internet for homework, lectures, projects and more. Slow or nonexistent internet service makes remote learning almost impossible. Some students have to get to a nearby town to access free wi-fi from a library or restaurant.
The K-12 Connect program will provide free internet service and associated equipment to students' households for the rest of this school year. At that time, the household must return the equipment or continue services at the household's expense.
Here are the criteria: the households must have at least one K-12 student currently enrolled, the household must meet the income eligibility guidelines for the free and reduced school lunch program, and the household was not subscribed to a fixed broadband internet service as of July 1, 2020.
We believe this is a great example of a great solution to the (hopefully) temporary problem of students having to stay home instead of going to school. It helps the students most in need without taking anything from other students. It gives opportunity for school success to more people.
-- Jon M. Hunter