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Despite Having Cellphones, Rural Teens With No Home Internet Are Left Behind

rural: 2 teenage boys at school with laptop

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With so many activities now online — including school and summer activities — digital access is critical. But many young people in rural areas do not have adequate internet connections. And a recent study from Michigan State University and 15 Michigan school districts shows the impact — lower performance in school, a lack of digital skills and less future opportunity.

Across the country, one in six rural teens don’t have broadband, according to a survey commissioned by 4-H and Microsoft. That compares with 1 in 10 teens nationally.

And having broadband in rural areas doesn’t necessarily mean having a good connection. More than 1 in 5 rural teens said their connection is spotty, according to the Microsoft survey. This interfered with their ability to do homework, among other things, they said.

The Michigan study found that students without broadband access were less likely to complete homework, had lower grade point averages and were less likely to attend college.

The study by Michigan State’s Quello Center looked at mostly rural school districts, comparing students who had broadband access at home with students who did not. Those without broadband often relied on a cellphone to get on the internet. They were less likely to create documents, read books and articles online and collaborate with other students on projects, the research found.

“It is wrong to assume that since most have a smartphone, students have sufficient access,” Johannes M. Bauer, Quello Center director, told MSU Today. Those without home access or who rely on a cellphone for access had a digital skills gap equivalent to the gap between eighth graders and 12th graders, the report said.

The Michigan study found that 7% of students had no internet access at all at home, 14% relied on a cellphone, 23% had relatively slow internet and 56% had fast access.

Better home access contributes to diverse technology uses, said Keith Hampton, Quello Center associate director for research.

“Digital skills are related to proficiency in a range of domains beyond simple technology use, including language and computation,” he said.

Lack of broadband was a function of geography as well as of family income, the study said.

The Microsoft survey found that teens without broadband access were less confident about themselves and their future.

 

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