Broadband Connectivity: Needed Now More Than Ever

Posted on Mar 24, 2020

As students and many members of the workforce adjust to working remotely, the need for complete broadband coverage hits home.

With the many school and business closures that have come due to concerns over the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), working from home has become more commonplace than most people likely ever dreamed of.

Thanks to modern technology and through internet connectivity, working remotely has enabled teachers to teach, businesses to do business, and meetings of all sorts to take place virtually.

As least that is the way it is supposed to work, and in most cases it does. Unfortunately, there are still those areas across this state and throughout the country that are considered underserved or unserved when it comes adequate broadband coverage.

This issue has long been a priority of Kentucky Farm Bureau KFB) and one the organization will continue to advocate for until those last miles have service, said KFB President Mark Haney.

“Modern technology has certainly been a blessing when it comes to connecting the world and providing new markets for all businesses, especially those operated by our farm families,” he said. “However, the lack of adequate broadband in all areas has been a hindrance for many and with the current situation we see with so many people having to work from home, we need that connectivity now more than ever.”

Haney added that many federal and state loan and grant programs have moved the issue forward, which has also been a blessing, but getting to that last mile will be such a benefit not only now but when the world finally gets past this pandemic.

“I have full faith that we will get to the point where all of us will have the broadband service we need,” he said. “But right now, we will focus on the tasks at hand, pull together as a collective nation, and get past this time of unrest by obeying the protocol set forth by state and federal leaders.”

Social Distancing from an educational perspective

One of the recommendations that has been made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that of “social distancing” meant to keep people at a safe distance or completely away from each other in order to keep the virus from spreading. And one of the biggest groups affected by “social distancing” has been the millions of students who are finishing their school years at home.

Tammy White is the school counselor at Providence Elementary in Webster County, as well as a Union County Farm Bureau Board Member, and Farm Bureau Education Committee Member. She said students and educators in some rural communities are struggling to stay connected during this time of school closures.

“Luckily in Webster County our teachers and students have become accustomed to distance learning, or what we call Link 2 Learn,” said White. “Students can request paper packets to complete in place of online instruction, but the quality is harder to maintain without the ability to communicate with their instructors.”

With adequate connectivity, White noted that some households can take advantage of face-to-face lessons from their teachers through programs such as Google Classroom, by way of Facebook live discussions, or the use of a vast selection of educational programs that are available online.

“Kentucky's educators are currently going above and beyond to stay connected with their students who do not have access to their online lessons by making phone calls from their private numbers, delivering materials with the school provided lunches, and other personal touches to ensure students stay connected and continue learning,” she said.

But she noted, there is also an extremely high cost in preparing paper copies for the students for weeks of instruction.

“Schools are already struggling financially, winding up their year’s budget, just to be hit with copies and more copies,” she said. “’I was told of one school, not accustomed to distance learning, that sent 150 pages of copied material per student for two weeks of learning. I know their education cannot have a dollar price put on it but that is crazy expensive.”

Even with the expense, school districts are making every effort to keep their students on task as they encounter a whole new learning environment. Many districts utilize the Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program which allows students to carry on their schoolwork, away from the classroom. 

According to information contained on the Kentucky Department of Education’s web site, “The Non-Traditional Instruction Program … encourages the continuation of academic instruction on days when school would otherwise be cancelled. School districts create plans to deliver instruction to every student in the district and provide for student and teacher interaction on NTI days, with the ultimate goal of continuing instruction.” 

Dr. Robbie Fletcher, superintendent of Lawrence County Public Schools, said that district has used NTI for five years but still recognizes challenges in a district that serves about 2,500 students in a county with more than 85 percent broadband coverage.

“We have a large population of students who live in or near Louisa, our county seat, but we have a lot of students living in more rural areas of the county,” he said.

And in those rural areas, many students are at a disadvantage when it comes to connectivity.

“In a perfect world, complete coverage would be best, and yes, our students can call and be in touch with their teachers in other ways. But it’s very difficult for them to get the full impact of the NTI program,” said Fletcher. “If they have internet service, they also have access to other resources like different websites, some which even allow students to work together on various projects. There are a lot more opportunities for them through the use of the internet.”

Like other school districts, Fletcher said accommodations are made for those students without broadband access including written lessons. However, he noted that if all areas had service, and all students were able to take advantage of that, it would save the district a lot of money not having to create hard copies of those lessons, allowing students and teachers to be on the same page in their teaching/learning endeavors.

“If every child had internet access, that would simply enrich things we are doing now, and it would truly mean no child would be left behind,” said Fletcher.

Being a Farm Bureau member, he also expressed thanks to the organization for its efforts related to education.

“Kentucky Farm Bureau is such a strong partner with us in education in Lawrence County, and not only monetarily, but also because there are so many who volunteer their time," he said. "It’s more of a family and we really appreciate that partnership. We have a saying here, ‘All In LC,’ and we classify KFB as one of those community partners that’s definitely all in.”

Haney offered his thanks to all in the education sector working to keep students moving forward and those on the frontlines keeping everyone safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our educators in this state are among the best in the country and I can’t thank them enough for the efforts they are making, during this time, to keep our students on track, and to make sure each and every one of them is doing well,” he said. “The same goes for our medical personnel who are placing themselves in harm’s way to make sure we are safe. God bless you all.”