Google will provide 4,000 Chromebooks and fund the use of 100,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for rural students in California, who are studying from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBC reports. The initiative, which was announced by California governor Gavin Newsom and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, will allow students to get access to free and unlimited Wi-Fi for a minimum of three months.
In California, EdSource reports that 20 percent of students can’t get on the internet. Google’s donation could cut this number in half, according to California State Board of Education Linda Darling-Hammond.
“We’re providing 4,000 Chromebooks to California students in greatest need & free wifi to 100,000 rural households during the #COVID19 crisis to make distance learning more accessible,” Pichai wrote in a tweet. California’s schools are scheduled to remain closed through the end of the school year.
Proud to work with @GavinNewsom & partners to help bridge the digital divide in our home state. We’re providing 4,000 Chromebooks to California students in greatest need & free wifi to 100,000 rural households during the #COVID19 crisis to make distance learning more accessible.
— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 1, 2020
However, more resources are still needed in the state. Newsom estimates that California will need 162,013 more Wi-Fi access points in addition to those provided by Google, SFGate reports. There are also questions about how useful the 100k mobile hotspots can be in areas where cellular signal is weak.
This is not just a problem in California, however. The so-called “homework gap” exists right across the US, prompting calls for the federal government to do more to level the playing field. The FCC has already taken steps to allow schools to work with carriers to upgrade their internet infrastructure, but one FCC commissioner wants the regulator to go further, and provide Wi-Fi hotspots directly to schools to loan out to their students.
“We must do what we can to help these efforts succeed for all students, including those who fall into the homework gap and are at greatest risk of being left behind,” FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a recent op-ed for The Verge.
Google’s contribution joins existing initiatives announced by Californian schools to improve their remote learning efforts. EdSource notes that San Francisco Unified has distributed over 5,200 Chromebooks to its students since its schools closed in March, while Los Angeles Unified has authorized a $100 million investment to provide laptops for its students, and is partnering with Verizon to provide internet access.