Research: The "To and Through" Opportunity

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An estimated 15 to 17 million students were cut off from remote learning when schools shut down at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic; a snapshot of the staggering connectivity crisis that afflicts communities and households from coast to coast. While federal assistance is available, much of the country’s more than $60 billion investment in broadband as part of the 2021 infrastructure law is yet to be spent. Thus, there is a pressing need to identify how communities can make the most of their resources when it comes to connecting students and erasing the “homework gap” that forms between students with reliable home internet access and those without.

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and the Open Technology Institute have long advocated for building broadband “To-and-Through” schools, libraries, and other “anchor institutions”—upgrading and extending the networks these public buildings already maintain to connect low-income households directly to the internet. This approach is often stymied by federal funding requirements that make it difficult to spend resources off campus. In January of 2021, our organizations petitioned the FCC to permit the use of E-rate funds to help pay to connect students without adequate internet access at home.

This project, a joint undertaking of the SHLB Coalition and OTI, comprises two parts: an economic study by Dr. Raul Katz of Telecom Advisory Services and a series of case studies examining communities around the country that exemplify the To-and-Through approach.

The economic study clearly demonstrates that building broadband networks To-and-Through anchor institutions is often the most cost effective and financially sustainable option for connecting students in rural and underserved areas. The case studies show that both large and small school districts, including Council Bluffs (IA) and Fresno (CA), are using a variety of wireless technologies and partnerships to permanently close the homework gap.

These findings offer key revelations for policymakers and advocates as we all look to make the most of present and future investments in closing the digital divide, as well as providing a roadmap for communities to pursue their own successful To-and-Through solutions.

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Who is SHLB?

Mission: “For every anchor institution in the country to have affordable, high-quality broadband that serves the needs of the institution and is open and accessible to the surrounding community.”


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