Broadband Internet access might not seem like an issue for the 70% of Americans who have it. But for those who don’t, the digital divide is real – and it’s a real problem.

It’s a problem that disproportionately affects people living in rural areas. According to a 2013 White House report, only 58% of rural residents in the U.S. have broadband Internet access at home. That’s compared to 72% of urban residents. In total, over 100 million U.S. homes lack broadband access.

High-speed broadband Internet has undeniable benefits for communities. It allows for better healthcare and public safety. It spurs economic development. It enables global communication. And, perhaps most importantly, it improves education.

Studies show that students who have Internet access at home have better grades, higher test scores, and higher graduation rates. Internet access better prepares students for high school and college – and after that, the real world. Those without it? They fall behind.

Expanding Internet, expanding horizons

It’s not all about numbers and statistics. High-speed Internet access improves education in media arts – which in turn fosters community building, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, civic engagement, innovation and much more.

Access to the Internet can expand access to the arts across the country – and the globe. Not in NYC or Paris? No problem. Students can take virtual tours of the Metropolitan or the Louvre online. They can view art exhibits and listen to concerts, stream radio broadcasts and podcasts. Even watch films, webinars and documentaries online.

Shrinking the digital divide brings these benefits to more students – especially those in rural areas who lack broadband Internet access at home.

Education and creation

With expanded Internet access, rural students can use digital tools to learn about art, literature, music, film and more. But it can also help them create their own art – and collaborate and communicate with the world.

The Internet allows students to interact with communities outside their schools and towns. They can post their own photography on Flickr or Photobucket. They can take advantage of online graphic design tools like pixlr if they can’t afford Photoshop. Show off their art on Etsy or DeviantART. Make movies on their laptops or phones. Collaborate on projects with students across the globe. They can write, sing, dance, speak, and create – and then share.

The future of rural broadband

The advantages of a media arts education are obvious. But if the digital divide remains, only some students will be able to see the benefits.

There’s hope for the future. Many organizations, from government agencies to nonprofit groups, are working together to expand broadband Internet access to rural areas.

The FCC

The Federal Communications Commission is working to increase access to broadband Internet across the country – by decreasing the price. 28% of households that lack broadband access say that prohibitive cost is their number one concern.

The FCC created the Connect America Fund (CAF) to support their initiatives. Their goal is to provide 100 million households with a 100Mbps Internet connection by 2020 – and to improve healthcare, sustainability, public safety and education.

CenturyLink recently accepted $54 million from the Connect America Fund to expand high-speed Internet access to more than 92,000 rural homes and businesses. The telco giant will also invest more than $60 million of its own funds to bring Internet access to rural areas in 33 states within the next three years. AT&T, while declining CAF support last year, this year says it will accept up to $100 million to deploy broadband to rural areas.

Internet.org

Launched in August 2013, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org is the latest nonprofit focused on expanding Internet access.

The project, which has partnered with tech companies like Samsung and Opera, aims to lower the cost and increase the availability of broadband Internet across the globe. Zuckerberg hopes to make Internet access available to 5 billion people worldwide.


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