Wirelessly bridging the homework gap: Technical options and social challenges in getting broadband to disconnected students


As many as three million households with school-aged children in the United States do not have any Internet service at home, and 18% do not have a broadband connection, creating a “homework gap” between those who can access the Internet to support their schoolwork at home, and those who cannot. Based on a series of empirical case studies of efforts to develop wireless projects across the United States, coupled with a review of relevant spectrum and wireless regulations, this study informs academics and practitioners how different wireless broadband technologies can help bridge the gap. However, as our case studies show, wireless should not be viewed as a magic bullet to solving the homework gap. Closing this gap requires social initiatives to promote uptake and productivity enhancing usage and skills levels, and financial and regulatory support from policymakers and other stakeholders.

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  1. 1.

    These case studies are profiled in greater detail in two separate reports, namely, a Business Strategy and Case Analysis (Shapiro et al. 2016) and a Regulatory Analysis (Yankelevich et al. 2016).

  2. 2.

    Specifically, a license for an EBS station will be issued only to an accredited institution or to a governmental organization engaged in the formal education of enrolled students or to a nonprofit organization whose purposes are educational and include providing educational and instructional television material to such accredited institutions and governmental organizations. 47 C.F.R., §27.1201(a). The FCC is presently reconsidering the rules governing EBS to allow more flexible use of the band (FCC 2018).

  3. 3.

    EBS comprises 112.5 MHz of the 2.5 GHz band. The FCC views EBS as suitable and available for the provision of mobile telephony/broadband services (FCC 2014, p. 107).

  4. 4.

    EBS networks can rely on devices equipped with SIM cards that support LTE Bands 7 or 41, such as those used by Sprint. See e.g., Sprint (2016, Feb. 18).

  5. 5.

    Backhaul is the means by which wireless sites are connected to each other and to the core network.

  6. 6.

    Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is a technical standard for high-speed wireless communication estimated to enable speeds ranging between 8 Mbps and 15 Mbps in the US (FCC 2016c, Table VI).

  7. 7.

    The Wi-Fi bands include almost 700 megaherz of spectrum in 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and primarily the 5 GHz bands.

  8. 8.

    For example, a search using the Spectrum Bridge TVWS Administrator database on September 4, 2017 indicated that there were 150 MHz of unlicensed spectrum available in Halifax, VA (Spectrum Bridge n.d.).

  9. 9.

    As recent FCC auctions demonstrate, mmW spectrum is also anticipated to be used for area-wide deployments by mobile wireless service providers (FCC 2019).

  10. 10.

    In the case of ACPS, all kids from 4th grade and above are provided with mobile wireless-capable laptops, with students in 6th grade and above allowed to take the laptops home. Similarly, all NMU full-time students are issued a university supplied notebook, with almost 10 thousand of these capable of utilizing the NMU network at the time of our interviews.

  11. 11.

    See Bulman and Fairlie 2016 and Escueta et al. 2017 for thorough overviews of the relevant research.

  12. 12.

    Most recently, as part of its 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order, the FCC instructed the Universal Service Administrative Company that manages Universal Service contributions and distributions to hire an outside, independent, third-party evaluator to complete a program evaluation of Lifeline by December 2020 (FCC 2016a, p. 409).


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We thank Merit, the Quilt, and Rocket Fiber for their support of this project. We are particularly grateful to Joseph Sawasky, the President and CEO of Merit, and Joanna Young, the former CIO and VP of Michigan State University, for encouraging and supporting the Quello Center to engage in this research. We are grateful to all participants across the two studies that we built our analysis on in this paper. We are indebted to Derek Murphy, who was crucial in conducting interviews with stakeholders across various organizations in this study.

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Correspondence to Bianca C. Reisdorf.

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Reisdorf, B.C., Yankelevich, A., Shapiro, M. et al. Wirelessly bridging the homework gap: Technical options and social challenges in getting broadband to disconnected students. Educ Inf Technol 24, 3803–3821 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-019-09953-9

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  • Homework gap
  • Digital divide
  • Digital inequalities
  • Wireless technology