By Teresa Martinez, Nine Network of Public Media
Where We Stand Preview blog posts represent the opinion of the author and do not represent the view of East-West Gateway Council of Governments. This post is part of the Where We Stand 7th Edition Preview Blog Series. View other posts in the series here.
For the majority of us, the Internet is firmly integrated into our daily lives and central to our learning. As of 2014, 87 percent of the U.S. population says they use the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. But today, access is no longer sufficient. Internet access does not mean equal access. As we see in the upcoming Where We Stand publication, only 8.3 percent of the St. Louis population has access to ‘high-speed Internet’, defined as download speeds greater than 1 gigabit. When you look at St. Louis in comparison to higher ranking metropolitan areas, you’ll notice a substantial gap in access – up to 55 percent.
We often hear about the ‘digital divide’ – traditionally understood as the connectivity gap among distinct regions and demographics. Through the Nine Network’s ongoing engagement with the community, we’ve heard about a different kind of divide. Merely having Internet has become an outdated standard. In our schools, for example, having basic access to the Internet doesn’t mean a student knows how to use it to learn. Knowing how to tweet from a Smartphone doesn’t mean a student knows how to find, analyze and evaluate information to advance their understanding of a topic. And teachers attest that dial-up or basic Wi-Fi is far from sufficient to enable meaningful technology integration into classroom learning.
We know that high-speed Internet access and digital media are dramatically changing how learning takes place in our schools. Teachers tell us that technology enabled by faster Internet can provide students with personalized feedback during lessons to assess student mastery in real time, and also enables them to curate multimedia content for instruction. We hear about the effectiveness of ‘blended learning’ – combining teacher led instruction with online instruction and collaborative activities. Even early reading teachers have found it beneficial to integrate mobile apps and activities developed for PBS Kids educational programs such as Martha Speaks or Between the Lions, which independent evaluations have shown improve vocabulary and reading skills (Rockman et al., 2010). Yet less than one-third of our schools have the broadband they need to teach using today’s technology. This can and must change. The Nine Network is providing broadband connectivity to schools in our region, and we’re constantly learning more about innovation in the classroom enabled by this access – from the science lab to the Makerspace.
Yet even if schools are connected, we still need improved access in the surrounding neighborhoods. Students must be able to complete their schoolwork at home on their own time. In the St. Louis region, 21 percent of residents do not have basic Internet access in their homes, and 16 percent do not have computers.
In order to foster a culture of innovation that improves our ability to learn, our quality of life, and our regional economy, our schools, homes, and businesses need access to high-speed Internet. The good news: our region already has the infrastructure to light it up.
 Read about the region’s fiber option infrastructure in Connectivity Report: St. Louis and Surrounding Areas – 2014 http://stlbroadbandsummit.org/wp-content/plugins/email-before-download/download.php?dl=c9f925253fe1989475fdb9c41372daed