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Many Students in Alabama Contend with Internet Access Issues

In many rural areas, more than half of all households don’t have Internet access and even more don’t have subscriptions. But the issue isn’t limited to rural areas; urban areas share a similar problem.

by Ramsey Archibald, Alabama Media Group / July 24, 2020

(TNS) — The start of the 2020-2021 school year is rapidly approaching, and school systems across Alabama are making difficult decisions about how to proceed as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Some of the state’s largest school systems have already announced that they will start the year with online-only courses, but others might not have much choice.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 22 percent of Alabama households didn’t have Internet access in 2018. As much as 17 percent of households don’t have a computer of any kind - and another 8 percent have access to a smartphone, but no other type of computer.

In many rural areas, especially in counties in and around the Black Belt, more than half of all households don’t have Internet access, and even more don’t have subscriptions.

In one remote part of Monroe County, just south of what is traditionally considered the Black Belt, more than 70 percent of households don’t have Internet access.

But the issue isn’t limited to rural areas. Several census tracts in some of Alabama’s largest cities have a high percentage of homes without Internet access. In one area in the heart of Birmingham, 50 percent of households don’t have access. More than 60 percent of households in multiple parts of Mobile don’t have access, either.

No home computers

In addition to issues with Internet access, many Alabama homes don’t have computers in them. A handful of rural counties in and around the Black Belt have significantly less access to computers than other parts of the state.

Monroe County again stands out - 49.6 percent of households there don’t have a computer of any kind, the highest computer-less percentage in the state. And 57 percent of Monroe County households don’t have an Internet subscription.

The Monroe County school district recently received over $500,000 in federal CARES Act funding, part of the $100 million that went to all Alabama schools for purchasing digital devices and software to facilitate virtual learning. That money could help rectify the issue of computers in homes, but Internet access is another issue.

Right now, Monroe County schools are planning to open for face-to-face instruction on August 17, with the option for families to opt for virtual learning. The school system also maintains that it could shift to online-only learning at any time if coronavirus cases spike in the area.

More than 44 percent of households in Greene and Perry counties, two of the smallest in the state, don’t have computers in the home. More than half of households in both counties don’t have Internet subscriptions.

As a whole, 22 percent of the Black Belt’s 210,000 households don’t have any kind of computer in the home.

©2020 Alabama Media Group,Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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