I Can’t Do My Homework On This Smartphone.

Bruce Kushnick
6 min readOct 10, 2019


Click to view the short video: “I Can’t Do My Homework On This”, by Community Union and the IRREGULATORS.

This week the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) is calling attention to “Digital Inclusion”, which includes the “Digital Divide” and the “Homework Gap”, among other related issues.

Definition of Digital Inclusion:

“Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.”

The Digital Divide is one component of this mess, which usually refers to large gaps in the deployment of high speed broadband where rural areas were never properly upgraded to fiber optics and now many are forced onto more expensive and slow broadband and internet service options using the aging copper networks or satellite — or slow wireless service, (charged by the GB). In fact, in some areas, the infrastructure of the US was just left just to deteriorate and was never properly served by the incumbent phone company, which are mostly controlled by AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink. And, these issues are not just in rural areas, however. There is also a lack of affordable or available high speed broadband in the inner cities, especially in low income areas.

Community Union and NIU has been working to helped to bring families and children to use the digital tools for decades and is working with the IRREGULATORS; we put together this short video to focus on the underlying issues — as a first start.

Why have large segments of America been left out or priced out of America’s Digital Future?

The IRREGULATORS’ approach is different. We have taken the FCC to court, IRREGULATORS v FCC, because the agency’s accounting rules have been manipulated and are used by the incumbent state phone companies that are controlled by AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink, to keep prices inflated and to claim that it is unprofitable to wire the rural areas and inner cities. Their plan has been to substitute their wireless services, which are more profitable, mainly because the networks they are using are mainly funded (cross-subsidized) by local phone customers.

To add insult to injury, 5G Wireless is just the latest bait-and-switch that is not profitable once the construction budgets that should have been used to upgrade cities and rural areas are halted and returned. And, with a range of a few city blocks and requiring a fiber optic wire, every mention of 5G serving rural areas and fixing the digital divide should remind the reader that the companies are using new-tech-shiny-bauble hype to get regulatory favors that they do not deserve; this is not about bringing affordable high speed broadband internet to America.

Before we discuss why IRREGULATORS v FCC is critical and how it can dramatically help to solve some of these issues, let’s discuss where we are in America.

The FCC and the politicians really care; FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said so many times.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

“Since my first day as Chairman of the FCC, my number one priority has been closing the digital divide and bringing the benefits of the Internet age to all Americans.”

In fact, the FCC put out a report claiming victory in closing the Digital Divide.

“REPORT: AMERICA’S DIGITAL DIVIDE NARROWS SUBSTANTIALLY: 2019 Broadband Deployment Report Shows More Than 25% Drop in Americans Lacking Access to Fixed Broadband”

Pew Research discussed the FCC’s finding:

“The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 21 million people in the United States don’t have that connection. That includes nearly 3 in 10 people — 27 percent — who live in such rural places as the outreaches of Maine and the fertile fields of Indiana, as well as 2 percent of those living in cities.”

But, when the FCC released its premier report about the Digital Divide, it was rightfully attacked as just another instance of the agency attempting to cover over bad results.

Pew continued:

“And those estimates are on the low side. Other research, including analysis from Microsoft, suggests that the number of Americans without broadband — that’s internet access with download speeds of at least 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps — could be over 163 million”.

NOTE: The FCC set America’s standard broadband speed to be 25 Mbps, and only 3 Mbps up. And while this speed-standard replaces the previous 2-tin-cans-and-string, it is done to lower the standard from having to give America fiber optic 1 Gig speeds, which helps the companies get government subsidies and to deliver inferior services at high costs to the consumer.

TechCrunch wrote about Microsoft’s findings as well. Just the headline tells the story.

“Microsoft says its data shows FCC reports massively overstate broadband adoption”

Motherboard also chimed in:

“American ISPs Are Better Than Ever, FCC Proclaims in Study Based on Flawed Data Ajit Pai’s FCC says more Americans than ever have access to fast internet connections, but critics say the study is ‘fundamentally at odds with reality’.”

Cell Phones for Homework = The Homework Gap.

According to the Pew Research May 2019 report there is a major hole in America’s ability to provide affordable high speed broadband; 26% of adults in lower income households rely on their smartphones instead of home broadband.

“With fewer options for online access at their disposal, many lower-income Americans are relying more on smartphones. As of early 2019, 26% of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year are “smartphone-dependent” internet users — meaning they own a smartphone but do not have broadband internet at home.”

But the lack of wireline home broadband also hits families and children, creating the “homework gap”. Pew writes:

“The disparity in online access is also apparent in what has been called the “homework gap” — the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. In 2015, 35% of lower-income households with school-age children did not have a broadband internet connection at home, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.”

Rural Areas and the Digital Divide

According to Pew:

“Roughly three-in-ten adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year (29%) don’t own a smartphone. More than four-in-ten don’t have home broadband services (44%) or a traditional computer (46%). And a majority of lower-income Americans are not tablet owners. By comparison, each of these technologies is nearly ubiquitous among adults in households earning $100,000 or more a year.”

Inner Cities Lack Affordable High Speed Broadband

But what we found is that the inner cities can also be an urban broadband desert — even in the largest cities in the US, such as New York City.

A recent study by the NYC Comptroller’s office shows that there is something very rotten in the Big Apple when it comes to households without broadband internet access.

The Brooklyner writes:

“According to NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s analysis, 46 percent of households in Kensington, Boro Park, and along Ocean Parkway do not have access to the broadband internet. Other neighborhoods include Chinatown & the Lower East Side (50 percent without access), Hunts Point, Longwood & Melrose (48 percent), Morris Heights, Fordham South & Mount Hope (44 percent), Belmont, Crotona Park East & East Tremont (43 percent), and Jamaica, Hollis & Street Albans (43 percent). Socioeconomic factors play into these numbers, the report says.”

“Internet disparities track closely to socioeconomic factors like poverty and are most apparent in traditionally marginalized communities. 44 percent of New Yorkers in poverty lack broadband internet access, as opposed to 22 percent above the poverty line.”

This data points to 2 problems. First, while high speed broadband may exist in these parts of the NY City, the price of service makes it unaffordable to lower income families.

But there is a dark secret. Verizon, the incumbent telecommunications utility, has an agreement with NYC to deploy fiber optic-based FiOS services to 100% of households in the City by 2014; an estimated one-quarter to one-third is still undone and the City has taken Verizon to court. This hole in deployment tracks with the lack of broadband access.

Let’s continue: How was this mess created and how can IRREGULATORS v FCC help to fix this mess?

Part II: IRREGULATORS v FCC: Fixing the Digital Divide and Homework Gap.



Bruce Kushnick

New Networks Institute,Executive Director, & Founding Member, IRREGULATORS; Telecom analyst for 40 years, and I have been playing the piano for 65 years.