Did you know that 10 percent of our district’s children have no internet access and even more cannot afford high-speed internet installation and costs needed for home-based work and school?
Last spring, internet companies around our county took a pledge led by the FCC as part of their Keep Americans Connected initiative. More than 800 companies, including many of our great local providers like DayStarr, signed the pledge, which urged companies with low-income broadband programs to expand and improve them and those without them to adopt such programs and to relax data usage limits. Now that this program is over, my worry is for our local kids who are heading back to school. What is the plan for them if they have no internet at home? What if they are sent home to quarantine? Will they be left behind?
Right now, from what I have read, schools are addressing this issue by asking students to study from a car in parking lots. I’ve been researching a lot of creative ideas in communities all across America that are dealing with the same rural access issues, and I believe we need a local initiative right here to help us focus as we start a new school year during the COVID-19 crisis.
In fact, what if we take a county “Get Shiawassee Connected” Wi-Fi pledge to help our schools and children in September? Here are some initiatives:
1. Expand free community Wi-Fi spots and promote in one campaign to the schools – these spots would include existing ones such as libraries, YMCA, downtown Owosso locations, schools, businesses.
2. Install and promote free Wi-Fi in our public spots – parks, soccer field pavilions, etc.
3. Create a local GoFundMe fundraiser (like the Plunge for Parks, a successful online fundraiser of over $100K for a skate park) that would help families who need the internet but can’t afford it.
4. Work with our libraries to hire digital interns from universities to help offer digital literacy training in our community.
5. Urgently seek available, larger federal investments that will enable 100 percent high-speed internet coverage for our area.
Right now, our focus needs to be on our children and helping our schools any way we can. We can help solve this Wi-Fi issue, so let’s get together and let’s get to work.
Andrea Kelly Garrison, Owosso
Candidate for 85th District State Rep.