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Section 2: Barriers in Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom

As discussed in the previous section, student access to digital learning resources (DLR) outside of the classroom varies with respect to characteristics of children and their families. This section presents five indicators based on analyses of the most recently available nationally representative survey data that provide an overview of potential barriers to students' access to the Internet and computers at home. The section also describes how access for children with different individual and household characteristics varies in ways that may be associated with these barriers.

Barriers to Internet Access

Results from the indicator analyses find that the two main reasons children ages 3 to 18 lacked access to the Internet at home in 2015 were that access was too expensive and that the family did not need it or was not interested in having it (38 percent each, Indicator 10). Other main reasons for no home internet access were that the home lacked an adequate computer for internet use, internet service was not available in the area, the Internet could be used elsewhere, and the family had concerns about online privacy, cybersecurity, and personal safety. Internet access being too expensive was more commonly the main barrier for children from low income families and for children whose parents had low levels of educational attainment than for other children.

The percentage of students ages 5 to 17 who had access to the Internet at home in 2015 varied by their home's geographic locale and their family's poverty status (Indicators 11 and 12). Fixed broadband access1 at home was most common for students in suburban areas and least common for students in rural areas. Also, fixed broadband access was less common in remote and distant rural areas than in fringe rural areas. Within these locale types, there were additional gaps among students of different poverty levels and racial/ethnic groups. Across geographic locales, the percentages of students with either no internet access or only dial-up access were consistently higher for students living below the poverty threshold than for students living at greater than 185 percent of the poverty threshold.

Although the data used for the indicators in this report were not able to explore barriers to home internet access for people residing on Tribal lands2 or in U.S. territories, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports such information in its 2016 Broadband Progress Report (FCC 2016a). At the end of 2014, the FCC found that while 10 percent of Americans overall lacked access to fixed broadband services, the percentage was several times higher for those living on Tribal lands and in U.S. territories, especially in rural areas. Forty-one percent of those living on Tribal lands overall and 68 percent living in rural tribal communities lacked access. In U.S. territories, 66 percent overall lack fixed broadband access and 98 percent living in rural territorial areas lacked access.

Barriers to Home Computer Access

In 2015, students in grades 4, 8, and 12 also differed in their ownership of digital devices at home and when they first used a laptop or desktop computer (Indicators 13 and 14). While over 90 percent of students at each grade level reported that they owned or shared a digital device in their home, it was less common for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than for their peers to own or share a digital device in their home. Early exposure to computers (i.e., first using a computer in kindergarten or before) was less common for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and for students who were English language learners than for their respective peers.

1 Fixed broadband (of any sort) excludes mobile broadband, but includes all other non-dial-up internet service, such as DSL, cable modem, fiber-optic cable, and satellite internet service.
2 As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau during the 2010 Census, Tribal lands refer to census tracts where at least 50 percent of the land area is comprised of federally recognized reservations, off-reservation trust land, joint use areas, statistical American Indian areas, Alaskan Native village statistical areas, and Hawaiian Home Lands. This definition excludes state-recognized American Indian areas.