As part of my campaign, I have a strong focus on how we can modernize our community which includes many changes regarding our jobs, infrastructure, childcare, healthcare, environment, but the most urgent area today, in my mind, is the issue of Internet and Wi-Fi.
10% of our district's children have no internet access and even more can not afford high-speed internet installation and costs needed for home-based work and school.
Last Spring, internet companies around our county took a pledge led by the FCC as part of their Keep Americans Connected initiative. More than 800 companies, including many of our great local providers like Daystarr, signed the pledge, which urged companies with low-income broadband programs to expand and improve them and those without them to adopt such programs and to relax data usage limits.
But when I spoke with the FCC this week, there is no plan to re-instate this pledge that expired in June as they said, "after all these companies need to make a profit." So, my thought is that now that our local kids are heading back to school, what is our Wi-Fi plan?
It doesn't seem right that we are asking our students to study from a car in the school parking lot if they don't have access to Wi-Fi.
I've seen a lot of creative ideas in communities all across America and thought a regional initiative here might help focus our community to help as we start the school year during the COVID-19 crisis. I have reached out this past month to a wide variety of entities- from unions to companies, non-profits to politicians, to schools & libraries, and even the FCC, and I am hopeful that we are on a path to offer some new programs and solutions.
Maybe we could all get involved and take a County or Districtwide Wi-Fi Pledge, and here are some of my suggestions:
1. Expand free community wi-fi spots and promote in one campaign to the schools- these spots would include existing ones such as libraries, YMCA, downtown Owosso locations, schools, businesses.
2. Install and promote free Wi-Fi in our public spots - parks, soccer field pavillions, etc.
3. Use rural funding and local gofundme type fundraisers to help families with children who need the internet but can’t afford it
4. Ensure full funding for free equipment needed by all students and teachers
5. Urgently seek available, larger federal investments in our high-speed internet coverage 6. Work with our Libraries to hire digital interns to offer help with digital literacy in our community
7. Use regional public broadcasting for creative television teachings such as airing grade-specific public school lessons to help children with distance learning, mental health education, etc.
Right now, our focus needs to be on our children and helping our schools. If there is one thing that’s certain about the impact of the pandemic, it’s that it’s not going to stop until the spread of COVID-19 itself does. Let's show up for them!