When Autumn Lee, a pre-med junior at the University of New Mexico, needs to download lectures or class assignments, she hops in her car and drives 45 minutes to the McDonald's nearest to her town of Sanders, Ariz, to connect a reliable Wi-Fi from her car.

Like Ms. Lee, many other Americans sheltering from the Covid-19 are discovering the limitations of the country's cobbled-together broadband services.

Schooling, Jobs, government services, medical care and child care that once were performed in person have been turned over to the web, exposing a deep rift between the broadband haves and have nots.

Those rifts are poised to turn into chasms, as the global pandemic threatens another year of in-person schooling for American children.

Large public-school districts like Los Angeles and Prince George's County in Maryland, as well as a  variety of  colleges and universities, Hampton to Harvard to Scripps, have canceled in-school instruction at the start of the coming year.

In America, today, broadband is a patchwork of infrastructure and services offered primarily to major corporations like Verizon and AT&T .

Efforts to extend this inequity extend back at least as far as 2009, when Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to develop a plan to get broadband service to nearly every American.

Some 21 million still lack it., according to commissioners' estimates. Yet that might be an underestimate: One study puts it far higher around 42 million.

The PEW Research Center said as many as one one in four rural Americans lack high-speed Internet service, because of either the cost or lack of availability.

Microsoft and others have disputed the F.C.C.'s data, which relies on self-reporting from the Internet service providers - reporting that can indicate an entire census block has service even if service is provided to just one household within the area.

But swaths of the country have been left with no service, either because of a lack of perceived profits or lack of political will to extend fiber to harder-to-reach communities.

Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind.

''People are afraid of the price tag,'' said Mr. Clayburn, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. ''We can't afford not to do it.''

Perhaps more daunting is the challenge of providing service that is speedy and at a price that even lower income Americans can afford.

One study found that poorer Americans can afford only $10 a month for internet service. But such service is typically at far slower speeds than what is available at far slower speeds than what is available in more affluent neighborhoods, or for free at Starbucks.

Drawing Wi-Fi from school buses and fast-food restaurants isn't a long term solution. In pandemic plagued America, high speed Internet connections are a civil rights issue.

The World Students Society thanks the Editorial writers of The New York Times.


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