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From 7 Million Homes to 17 Million Children: Why Many Students Lack Internet Access

How to understand the different estimates of America’s unconnected students

We continue to compare the estimates of unconnected students from four organizations:

Models vary in estimates because of differences in units, definitions, assumptions, methodology and data sources. Initially, we compared the total number of estimated unconnected students, children, and families. From 7 million homes to 17 million children, we similarly find a wide range of differences in the following areas:

  • Costs for Connection, Devices
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Rural vs. Non-rural

A side-by-side estimate comparison for each of these areas is shown below. While these models all provide great starting points to understand the scope and socioeconomic and racial inequities of the digital divide on students during COVID-19, the variability of these estimates underscores the importance of better data collection at the local and state level. 

To identify and connect students who lack home digital access in your area Explore our Needs Assessment Playbook >

Table 1: National Number of Unconnected Students, Children, Families

ESHFFLCSMAll4Ed
9.7 million students

lack reliable internet connectivity at home
7.15 million families

without Internet access because they cannot afford it
15 million to 16 million students
without an internet connection or device adequate for distance learning
16.9 million children


lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning
Units, Definition“students” refers to K-12 students in public and charter schools “families” refers to households “students” refers to K-12 public school students“children” refers to number of related children in the household 

Table 2: Costs for Connection, Devices

ESHFFLCSMAll4Ed
$1.7 billiontotal estimated cost for connecting for the 9.7M students$7.54 billiontotal estimated cost for Connection, Device, and Cybersecurity for the 7.15M family households$6 billion to $11 billion and up to an additional $1 billion for teachers.the cost of closing the digital divide for K-12 public school students for 15-16M students$6.8 billion 
necessary to cover immediate costs related to high-speed home internet access and devices for 16.9M children
TimeCost in the first year, one-time and recurring costsCost in the first yearCost in the first year, one-time and recurring costsCost in the first year, one-time and recurring costs
Cost estimates include:ConnectionConnection, devices, and cybersecurityConnection, devices, and device warrantiesConnection and devices
MethodologyAverage monthly  wireline cost of $10.97; Average monthly LTE cost of $39; Average one-time cost for the hotspot device $75Average connectivity cost $50/month per household; Average $250 per device; Average $25 per user for cybersecurity

$3 billion-$5.5 billion of one-time costs for installation and set-up, devices, and device warranties; and ~$2.7 billion to $5.6 billion for 12 months of recurring charges for connectivity, connectivity equipment, and mobile device managementConnectivity cost $600 annually per household
$250 one-time device cost per child
Assumptioncosts of home internet service based on per householddevice costs based on one device per householdcost estimates for connectivity is for each student, not householdcosts of high-speed home internet service based on per household
computer costs based on the number of children 

Table 3: Black or African American, Latinx, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native

ESHCSMAll4Ed
5.1 million
Black, Latino students lack reliable internet connectivity at home
26 percent of Latinx, 30 percent of Black, and 35 percent of Native American 
households lack adequate home internet access
4.7 million 
Black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native families combined lack the high-speed home internet service necessary to support online learning
Units, Definition“students” refers to K-12 students in public and charter schools who identify as Black or African American or Latinx“Households” as defined by the ACS“Families”, “Households”  as defined by the ACS
Definition“reliable internet connectivity” refers to internet connection adequate for distance learning“internet connection” refers to internet provided via cable, fiber, or digital subscriber line (DSL);estimate includes students that only have access to internet via a cellular connection on a mobile device“internet connection” refers to internet provided via cable, fiber, or digital subscriber line (DSL)
Data Source(s)NCES, USACAmerican Community Survey (ACS) 1 Year, 5 Year
NCES
American Community Survey (ACS) 1 Year

Table 4: Rural

ESHCSMAll4Ed
1.4 million
rural students lack reliable internet connectivity at home
37 percent 
students without a home broadband connection in rural communities
1.7 million 
households in nonmetropolitan (or rural) areas do not have high-speed home internet service
Units, Definition“students” refers to K-12 students in public and charter schools “students” refers to K-12 public school students“Household” refers to households with one or more children of age 17 years or younger
Data Source(s)NCES, USACAmerican Community Survey (ACS) 1 Year, 5 Year
NCES
American Community Survey (ACS) 1 Year

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