Critical Connections: Broadband Access, Student Learning Outcomes, and Community Development

Johannes M. Bauer and Keith N. Hampton, College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Merit Network, Inc.
Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District
Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District
St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency
Washtenaw County, Michigan
Southwest Michigan Planning Commission

In 2017, an estimated 27% of Michigan households with school-aged children, many located in rural parts of the state, did not have access to broadband connectivity. As similar patterns began prevailing across the United States, Johannes Bauer and Keith Hampton of MSU’s Quello Center, along with Merit Network, Inc., partnered to develop conceptual frameworks, methods, and tools to help overcome discrepancies in access to high-speed Internet.

Project goals revolved around creating methods to build reliable, spatially granular data, and maps of household connectivity, while also developing a deeper theoretical and empirical understanding of implications of poor or lacking broadband access.

Initial measures and policies were impeded by the dearth of reliable information about digital inequalities and an incomplete understanding of repercussions for individuals, communities, and society.

Throughout the past four years, however, the collaboration has broadened from the Quello Center and Merit Network to include school districts and communities with an interest in improving digital equity and inclusion. The knowledge gained through these partnerships has improved the development and planning of remedial measures. Furthermore, partners are able to leverage it to attract private investment and obtain public funding to bridge digital divides and affect thousands of households across Michigan.