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Report is first study to aggregate comprehensive community data on subject
Columbus, OH (June 30, 2020)— When COVID-19 forced area schools to online teaching and learning this spring, it soon became apparent that many students could not be reached because of an absence of online access. The news of these access challenges prompted The Columbus Foundation to move quickly to get the detailed facts about this challenge on the table and into the hands of civic leaders, so solutions can be put into place to narrow this gap as quickly as possible.
AECOM, an international civil infrastructure research and planning company, was selected by the Foundation to fully but quickly conduct research to assess the landscape of broadband access in Columbus and to use its experience base to recommend ways for our community to address gaps in broadband access. Michael Bongiorno, Managing Principal and Design Director, Columbus Regional Office, AECOM, led the project.
The firm compiled data from a large array of sources, including Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), CCS, American Community Survey, census, and private industry data to ensure the report took into account groundwork research previously laid by regional partners and other resources.
“Our findings result from a comprehensive analysis of numerous data sources and data sets that provide a clear picture of the state of Columbus’ broadband infrastructure,” said Bongiorno.
As to its findings, in regards to the primary question of whether the access gap was driven by poor broadband infrastructure, the answer was a resounding “no.” Even in the lowest income areas of Columbus, there is at least one high-speed internet provider and adequate broadband infrastructure for service.
Instead, the study found that gaps in access were largely due to a variety of barriers across different demographics, such as:
- Economic challenges
- Technological literacy
- Computers or other technological hardware
Recommendations for closing the gap ranged from short-term solutions, like subsidies and hot spots, to medium-term solutions, such as the expansion of wifi access points to include parks, community centers, and pedestrian areas. Long-term, public-private partnerships and new technologies will be necessary components to ensure high-speed internet access to all community members.
Strong education is vital to the well-being of our community, today and tomorrow. To provide the future our kids and our community deserve, we must understand the challenges students face in accessing education during these pandemic times. The findings in this timely and comprehensive report will be critical in quickly putting into place equitable educational opportunities for Columbus families.
DOUGLAS F. KRIDLER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE COLUMBUS FOUNDATION
In addition to commissioning the report, the Foundation co-convened a group of broadband and education experts to discuss ways in which to prioritize action steps to bridge the digital divide. This group of public and private sector experts is chaired by Patrick Losinski, President and CEO of Columbus Metropolitan Library, which itself has taken valuable steps to increase broadband access to our residents.
“The pandemic has shed greater light on the vast disparities in broadband access in our communities,” said Losinski.
"The AECOM broadband study provides foundational data that will guide the development of short and long term solutions for the lack of available broadband access in central Ohio. Students without home access are particularly disadvantaged given the new requirements for online education. Broadband is as important in today's world as electricity, gas and water—it really is the fourth utility and we must find ways for everyone to get the access they need for school, work, and life," Losinski stated.
The Foundation will separately investigate this issue by working with students and families to find out more about the issues families face accessing broadband services for their homes and their children’s educational use. This research will be led by Heather Tsavaris, Principal Consultant for the Foundation’s Human:Kind project. Through this work, the Foundation will probe the challenges of online learning through a “design sprint” that will bring in students and families to discuss obstacles to learning and develop potential solutions in order to increase participation in online classrooms.
Read the full report from AECOM here.
About The Columbus Foundation
The Columbus Foundation serves nearly 3,000 individuals, families, and businesses that have created unique funds and planned gifts to make a difference in the lives of others through the most effective philanthropy possible. The Columbus Foundation is Your Trusted Philanthropic Advisor® and one of the top 10 largest community foundations in the United States.