More and more colleges have followed the lead of top schools like MIT, Stanford, Columbia and Princeton in offering free online courses in the name of providing educational access to all. While this is a great idea in opening up education channels that were previously off limits to most, these courses aren’t as accessible as they appear.
Currently about 66 percent of American adults have broadband access at home and only one-fifth of elementary- and secondary-school teachers in the United States could report that all or most of their students have the digital access they need at home. Beyond the US, broadband internet is even harder to come by which limits the effects of open online course on a global scale.
Even in developed countries, potential students face data plans have a data limits. That means those who want to watch hours of lecture videos, which require more bandwidth, might face high charges from their Internet provider for doing so.
For example, in a common internet provider in Canada offers two gigabytes of monthly use (that’s not a typo) to 175 gigabytes—at a cost of $28/mo to $100/mo. Exceeding the cap can cost anywhere from $5 a gigabyte (for the two-GB-per-month plan) to $0.50 per gigabyte. New Zealand’s WorldNet charges anywhere from $31 to $45 (price varies by length of contract requested) for a mighty one gigabyte of monthly use—that’s right. One gigabyte. But should you need to download more than just your email, you can always bump up to one of the company’s higher service tiers. A whopping 50 gigabytes per month will set you back anywhere from $56 to $70. There are some companies in the US trying out the bandwith caps with their customers causing further issues for those who have access.
Some have called this problem the Bandwidth Divide and it’s widening. The difference between those who have access to fast connections and those who have only dial-up speeds or access via a cellphone is larger than most people think. One possible solution for those without access to broadband internet or lack the funds to cover their educational needs is public libraries. But the library solution is not perfect since patrons still have to work within the bounds of limited hours and long wait times for shared computers. More than 40 percent of public libraries reported that they do not meet the Internet access demands of patrons with 65 percent reporting that they lack the number of public computers needed to meet demands.
To read more, visit The Chronicle of Higher Education