Homework Story

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Submissions from school districts and education nonprofits largely supported keeping, or strengthening, the spectrum’s ties to education.

Meanwhile, representatives of commercial wireless internet providers, and open-market advocates such as the nonprofit R Street Institute, pushed for full commercialization and urged the commissioners to auction off whitespace spectrum licenses.

Some kids come to log extra time on class projects. And yet reliable broadband is far from guaranteed in this region of towering plateaus, sagebrush valleys, and steep canyons.

Like much of rural America, Garfield County is on the wrong side of the “homework gap”—a stubborn disparity in at-home broadband that hinders millions of students’ access to the array of online learning, collaboration, and research tools enjoyed by their better-connected peers.

But the pilot can’t get started without one critical missing ingredient—access to frequencies of electromagnetic spectrum.

Federal licenses to use spectrum that can carry mobile internet are a hot commodity, coveted by big telecommunications companies with money to spend at the periodic spectrum auctions conducted by the Federal Communications Commission.

In total, the homework gap hits some 12 million school-aged kids nationwide, according to a 2017 congressional report, “America’s Digital Divide.”When pioneering districts try to build their own broadband networks to reach students beyond school walls, they must first navigate federal control of the electromagnetic spectrum that carries every wireless signal, from radio broadcasts to satellite communications.

To avoid interference, licenses to use specific frequencies of spectrum are tied to geographic location.

Before and after classes at Panguitch High School, a low-slung brick building nestled in the high desert of southern Utah, students find their way to Shawn Caine’s classroom.

They settle in at the computers where Caine teaches coding and software, or they head to the back room for the 3D printer, vinyl cutter, and robotics kits. Her district of Garfield County has provided a computer to every student since 2016.

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