Improving Internet an Education Imperative

Last year, a higher-than-average number of snow days affected Door County’s school districts, and to address the challenge, the Gibraltar School District is experimenting with providing instruction at home during future weather events and closures.

Crucial to the success of this innovative plan is internet availability, which is a challenge for some students living in the district: A recent district survey showed that only four of every five students have access to reliable internet at home. 

Door County needs significant improvement in internet access, and it needs it now. We can’t afford to leave one of every five children behind.

Digital adoption and literacy must be primary focuses if rural America in general – and Door County specifically – is going to hold its own in job creation, retention and economic vibrancy. The importance of addressing the county’s digital needs cannot be understated: Lack of access is harming the sustainability of our economic ecosystem.

Providing people with foundational digital skills equips them for lifelong learning and being in demand as employees. Not surprisingly, this should start early in our schools. Studies strongly suggest that we can ill afford to have digital blind spots, especially in rural places such as Door County.

For example, a study Deloitte conducted last year titled “Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” estimates that about two-thirds of today’s five-year-olds will work in jobs that don’t exist yet, and it’s a reasonable expectation that these future jobs will depend on using digital technologies.

Additionally, a 2017 McKinsey study titled “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills and Wages” reveals that 60 percent of jobs today could have nearly a third of their work activity automated with the application of already-existing technology.

Finally, a recent U.S. Census Bureau report titled “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018, Current Population Reports” reveals a significant overlap between areas of limited broadband access and concentrated poverty.

“Income inequality is at a 50-year high, and many states with the highest poverty levels – Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia and Arkansas – are also the most disconnected,” writes Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, for Axios Expert Voices.

But that’s Mississippi and New Mexico and Arkansas. Not so in Door County, right?

An inconvenient truth is that not only does income inequality exist here, but it’s growing.

The most recent United Way of Wisconsin data reveal that although the poverty rate of Door County grew modestly from 2010 to 2016 (from 9 percent to 10 percent), another cohort that’s considered “asset limited, income constrained, employed” (ALICE) grew by 22 percent during that same period. In fact, the 2016 data reveal that 32 percent of Door County residents are living in a state of poverty or ALICE.

So what can be done? Plenty.

We are fortunate to have digital providers – Door County Broadband, Nsight Teleservices, Charter/Spectrum and AT&T, to name a few – but Door County currently has policies that hamper the availability of broadband in some rural areas. These policies don’t exist in neighboring areas, however, which has allowed Kewaunee County to accelerate internet expansion to rural areas.

These policies include holding internet towers to the same restrictions used for cellular towers, even though they are very different. These policies also create income inequity because not everyone can afford to build a $12,000 internet tower on their property.

Every student at Gibraltar deserves the chance to have reliable internet at home, and this inequity is not limited to Gibraltar. Washington Island recently spent more than a week without any internet access. 

Door County Economic Development Corporation – working with our Technology Subcommittee, NWTC and local stakeholders – is seeking to ensure that everyone has internet access. We will be supporting proposed projects – partially grant-funded – in Jacksonport, Washington Island, Nasewaupee, Liberty Grove, Egg Harbor (Town and Village) and potentially other municipalities.

How can you help? If you lack reliable internet, make certain your Door County supervisor is aware of it.

Our students deserve the best possible access to ensure their future. Seniors need access for telecare. Businesses need access to ensure efficient service. Let’s work together to provide it.

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