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Lifeline Will Expand, Now What?

Today, the FCC voted 3-2 to approve an expansion to the Lifeline program, which I wrote about earlier. This expansion means the government will pay a $9.25 subsidy for broadband access via Lifeline which already includes a telephone line.

But what does this mean for education? What do we do next?

One thing this means for education is we have taken a step toward digital equity. No, this one step won't solve the entire issue but it will be a helpful solution for many families. It will provide online access to many who cannot afford it. And as Commissioner Clyburn said, many don't think twice about paying $9 for a combo meal at the airport but for some families, it can make all the difference in having an online connection.

In 2002, the state of Texas passed legislation allowing school districts to transfer surplus equipment to current students at no cost (rather than sending the equipment to auction) which can include computers. In 2002 when this law passed, my school district implemented the Computers @ Home program. It's a program that allows families to request a district surplus computer at their child's campus. After signing a document indicating they will return the computer if they move out of the school district, they take a computer home. Granted, this program is more than a decade old and does not address the need for wireless devices for portable learning, but it is a solution that can help many students.

The need for devices will grow with the Lifeline expansion. If a school district cannot implement a program similar to Computers @ Home, what does that mean for students without a device? The conversation of needing more devices is nothing new but it is important to note that the same conversation will soon be amplified even more. We will have to work together to come up with effective solutions. I know, I know - that's easier said than done. I get it. But I also know we have collaborated to achieve incredible things in the past and we can do it again.

Lifeline's reform will make a huge impact on our students and we need to stay informed regarding the expansion progress. We must be very mindful of how they are going to verify eligibility. We should ask questions about Internet service providers and how they will be involved in this process. We need detailed information about how families can sign up and where they can report an issue of Lifeline not being made available to them, if they qualify.

Digital literacy and digital citizenship are both topics we have been discussing for more than a decade. With this Lifeline expansion, we should be developing ways to support the parents and students become more digitally literate and understand the digital footprint they leave behind while using the Internet.

Let's take a step back and consider the very real fact that many families, school district staff, and community members don't even know Lifeline for telephone landlines began over 30 years ago and is now expanding. You can't simply announce this news via a website because, first of all, families without Internet access will never see it and, secondly, it needs to be addressed in a more thorough manner. The approval of this expansion is enormous and we all should be equipped with information.

For many years, those without Internet access have been missing countless opportunities. Missing opportunities means they are regularly under-privileged and it's time to take the necessary steps toward digital equity. We have a long way to go, but I see the Lifeline expansion as a beginning step in the right direction.

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