May 03, 2016

Udall Working to Close the ‘Homework Gap’ for Rural and Low-Income Students in NM

Hosts FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel at Hatch Valley High School to talk with students, parents, teachers about how to ensure all students have internet access

HATCH, N.M. - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall pledged to keep fighting for the resources to extend broadband internet across New Mexico and close the so-called "homework gap" - the inequality of access to the internet facing low-income and rural students.

Udall, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, hosted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel - along with representatives from Univision and CenturyLink - at Hatch Valley High School. They heard from students, teachers, parents and school administrators about the need to ensure all kids have the same access to essential educational tools. While 96 percent of Americans in urban areas have access to fixed broadband, only 70 percent of New Mexicans have broadband access at home. And in rural New Mexico, only one in three can access the internet at home.

The Hatch Valley schools have benefited from the FCC's E-Rate initiative, which reimburses schools and libraries for expenses related to internet access. But many Hatch students still are at a disadvantage because they don't have reliable internet access at home. Students told Udall and Rosenworcel that they have to get creative to do homework - sometimes using broadband outside school district buildings in the evening, or studying outside the Pic Quik convenience store in town, which has free wifi. Rosenworcel has termed the challenge the "homework gap."

"The internet is essential - it's the telephone of the 21st century. It's critical for business, health care and education. And that's why we can't afford to let the digital divide continue to grow," Udall said. "Thanks to the E-Rate program, we're making progress in the schools. But thousands of New Mexico students still are at risk of falling behind their peers across the country - simply because they don't have internet at home. They can't access email, do research on the internet, or apply online for jobs or college at home. Today's discussion highlighted how important it is keep pushing to make sure all students can have the same access to critical educational tools and resources, which increasingly are available only online."

Rosenworcel said: "New Mexico schools already are seeing powerful benefits as a result of recent changes to the federal government's E-Rate program, which provides schools with broadband and wireless connectivity. Now, the challenge lies at home where many students don't have the internet necessary to do their homework. This Homework Gap is the cruelest part of our digital divide, but we can work together to bridge it - in New Mexico and across the country."

Udall and Rosenworcel are strong supporters of the FCC's $9 billion annual E-Rate program, which also supports the extension of broadband internet for telemedicine and other civic needs. Udall invited Rosenworcel to New Mexico to highlight the benefits of E-Rate and the need to work aggressively to close the digital divide. In 2014, New Mexico schools and libraries received $24 million dollars in E-Rate support for internet access. But Udall and Rosenworcel agreed more work must be done to improve connectivity.

Photo caption: (From left) Rosenworcel, Udall, and teacher Audra Bluehouse look on as students play a vocabulary word game in Bluehouse's class. Behind them is Angela Navarette, vice president-general manager of Univision's KBNA, KANA and KQBU stations in El Paso, Texas. Many students at Hatch Valley High School have access to computers and the internet only at school.