Internet Access Resources
One of Virginia PTA's long standing advocacy priorities has been to address the digital divide, often referred to as the homework gap. Digital learning and connectivity at school and at home enables students to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs and levels the playing field for students regardless of their affluence level or geographic location. The COVID-19 crisis brought the digital divide into sharp focus as 14% of Virginia's K-12 students didn't have access to internet and 12% didn't have a computer in their home at the start of the pandemic due to both accessibility and affordability issues.
In 2021 Virginia PTA's active advocacy and collaboration with coalition partners resulted in a historic $100M investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) which provides grant funds to local governments to expand high-speed internet access in unserved areas. Additionally, Virginia PTA successfully advocacted for afforability programs that have provided new federal and state level discounts for low-income families as well as mapping (in the 2021 Budget Bill) to indicating broadband coverage and available speeds.
Below are resources and information you can reference to help your family access high-speed, affordable internet.
What is Broadband?
Broadband is a term used to refer to high-speed internet provided via multiple types of technologies including fiber optics, wireless, cable, DSL and satellite. Broadband Internet Service Providers can be local telephone companies, cable companies, local providers of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or fiber connections, a wireless or satellite company, or an electrical utility for Broadband over Power Line (BPL). Who you will contact to obtain internet service depends on your needs and the technology available in your community.
- Fiber to the Home: Transmits large amounts of data using pulses of light that run through strands of glass fiber at high speeds. This is the fastest type of internet.
- Cable: Transmits data over the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to your TV.
- Wireless broadband (Wi-Fi Hotspots): Connects you to the internet using radio signals instead of cables. Many school divisions provided families with WiFi Hotspots during the height of the pandemic. To use a mobile wi-fi device you need to have cell phone service from the provider of the WiFi Hotspot.
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL): Transmits data using electric signals over traditional copper phone lines
- Satellite: Often used in rural areas, data is transmitted via a communication satellite mounted on your home.
What is Considered High-Speed?
To fully participate in on-line classes with little lag, you should consider a broadband plan that provides100 Mbps download and 25-100 Mbps upload. According to the Federal Communications Commission, you are 'un-served' by broadband if you have no access to broadband service or have with speeds less than 25/3 Mbps. The first number (25) is the download speed. It tells you how quickly your internet service sends information to your device. The second number (3) is the upload speed. It tells you how quickly you are transmitting data to another device. If you are 'Under-served' then you would access the internet at speeds less than 100/20 Mbps.
Check Broadband Availability For Your Address
The FCC's new National Broadband Map is an important part of closing the Digital Divide. Released in November 2022, the map displays location-specific information about available broadband and wireless coverage AND includes a public challenge process. This is a change from previous state and federal maps that reflected census-block level data and only included information submitted by Internet Service Providers. After checking coverage for your home or small business, you can submit a📍 Location, ✅ Availability, or 📲 Mobile Coverage Challenge.
Having an accurate map will help ensure targeted funding to un-served and under-served communities. Data from this map will be used in the spring of 2022, to disperse $42.5 billion as part of the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program which was established by the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act (Infrastructure Act) passed in 2021. Each state will get an initial $100 million, with additional funding to be distributed based on the number of unserved and underserved locations, according to the new national broadband map. This is the single largest broadband investment in United States history and aims to provide widespread access to affordable broadband.
- View Virginia's Commonwealth Connection Coverage Map
- View Federal Coverage Map & Challenge Coverage
- Availability Outreach Toolkit
Are there Affordability Programs?
YES! The Affordable Connectivity Program is a U.S. government program run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program to help low-income households pay for internet service and connected devices like a laptop or tablet. Households are considered for eligibily Families with a household’s income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, or receiving government benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, WIC, Pell Grant, or Free and Reduced-Price Lunch may be eligible for the following benefits:
- Up to $30/month discount for broadband service;
- Up to $75/month discount for households on qualifying Tribal lands; and
- A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider if the household contributes more than $10 but less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Eligible households must 1) apply for the program and 2) contact a participating provider to select a service plan.
Note, the Affordable Connectivity Program is a $14 billion program that replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program which was established during the pandemic. In addition to providing an affordability program, it also requires Internet Service Providers to provide standard labeling for internet download and upload speeds, monthly service costs, taxes, any equipment and other fees. Additionally it also allocates $42.5 billion to bring high-speed internet to unserved areas at speeds of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads and provides $2.75 billion for digital literacy training.
- DETERMINE ELIGIBILITY & APPLY or call (877) 384-2575
- FIND A PARTICIPATING PROVIDER.
- Providers participating in the GetInternet.Gov program offer internet at $30/month or less. In combination with the Affordable Connectivity Program this may mean no out of pocket expenses.
- Affordability Outreach Toolkit
- Learn more about Internet For All