High-speed internet is something many Americans likely take for granted. While it's common in many parts of the country, rural America is still struggling to connect.
Kim Gresham, who teaches in east central Georgia, said she really noticed the disparity when classrooms went virtual at the beginning of the pandemic.
“When we were virtual, I didn't have all students attending the virtual sessions due to the fact that there was a connectivity problem," Gresham said.
Taliaferro County School District Superintendent Allen Fort had planned to retire at the end of 2022. However, he decided to stay on to help address the lack of internet access.
It's not just rural Georgia with a problem connecting to the internet.
“Broadbandnow.com says about 42 million Americans remain unconnected. Microsoft says that 120 million Americans, or about a third of the population, are under-connected,” said Christopher Ali, Pioneers Chair in the Department of Telecommunications at Penn State. “I think that the pandemic only exemplified or underscored how crucial it is for every American to have affordable access to a high-speed broadband connection.”
Ali says there’s no incentive for communications companies to connect rural communities.
The government recently signed a bill allocating a $65 billion investment into broadband. More than $42 billion will be distributed for projects that support broadband infrastructure deployment and $14 billion for affordable connectivity. Despite all that money, problems could be ahead.
“It's going to run out in 2025. And then all those low-income households that we've connected are now going to be faced in a very vulnerable position of whether or not they make choices like eating or having the internet,” Ali said.
That doesn’t sit well with teachers like Gresham, who do everything they can to make sure their kids learn.
"I’m doing what I ever I can and we have to work together in order to be successful in this situation,” she said.