Isn't it about time to provide every public school student broadband access?

Published October 15, 2020

By Joe Mavretic

This is exactly what our Constitution states in Article I, Sec.15. Education. "The people have a right to the privilege of education, and it is the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right." The key Constitutional word about North Carolina’s public education (K-12) is that it is a right to a "PRIVILEGE!" A privilege is an entitlement, a birthright, a prerogative. Our Constitution requires that every child in our state have the opportunity to enjoy that privilege no matter where he or she lives. This is heavy stuff! It speaks volumes about what we say we believe compared to what we actually are doing. Every child in North Carolina DOES NOT have equal access to public education and the Chinese Flu has exposed that failure. Not having internet access is all about "Hot Spots," "Dead Zones," politics, and campaign contributions.
Our current condition resembles the 1930’s when not everyone in North Carolina had electricity.
 In 1930, it was all about money. The big electric companies claimed that they would lose money unless they had at least four customers per mile. In 1936, The Federal government enacted the Rural Electrification Act that enabled member-owned Electrical Cooperatives to provide electricity to one customer per mile. It took about thirty years for over 99% of America to have electricity-thanks to cooperatives like North Carolina’s Edgecombe-Martin Electrical Membership Corporation. The North Carolina lesson about rural electricity is that the big corporations are concerned with profits at the expense of people, that they have the money, and the political influence, to get what they want.
In 2020, the North Carolina broadband issue is also about money. Unlike our densely populated cities, our sparsely populated rural areas are not profitable. Dead zones are all about the customer cost of crossing the urban-rural digital divide. Dead zones can be eliminated with line-of-sight towers but they are expensive and are complicated by 5G limitations. North Carolina has an initiative entitled "Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) that is intended to expand broadband but is only a small step toward complete availability. Big providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile/Sprint can influence legislators to adopt a "Wait and See" stance about scientific advances.
Even if businesses did provide complete access to broadband, there are two short-term customer concerns: Would low income customers be willing to pay for broadband even if it were subsidized, and, would some potential customers simply choose to ignore it?
Regardless of the short and long term impediments to broadband access, the immediate block to students’ internet access looms large on this years’ performance evaluations! If we do not provide "School as usual," then, in every county, every day, every student without broadband access must be moved to a safe place with internet. Our constitution requires that.
Esse Quam Videri.