"Michigan Moonshot" seeks to reduce rural academic disparity by expanding broadband access

More than 380,000 Michigan households with K-12 students lack access to broadband internet.


That's according to Pierrette Widmeyer, director of communications for the Ann Arbor nonprofit Merit Network, which is partnering on a new initiative to address the academic achievement gap between students with home internet access and those without.


To assist underserved communities, Merit has partnered with Michigan State University's Quello Center and the Washington, D.C.-based Measurement Lab on a broadband data collection initiative called the Michigan Moonshot.


"It is imperative for communities to leverage broadband network access to eliminate the homework gap, which often reinforces socioeconomic divides," Widmeyer says.


Starting this month, the first phase of the Michigan Moonshot project will involve working with three school districts (Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District, St. Clair County Regional Education Service Agency, and Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District) to crowdsource data relating to broadband internet connectivity. Students at the schools will act as "citizen scientists," responding to digital surveys on their ability to access class materials online.


"Current data collection methodology is flawed. Our crowdsourced data collection process will provide an accurate picture of connectivity in the state," Widmeyer says.


Data collection will eventually branch out to schools across the state, and in the second phase the Moonshot partners will seek grant funding to address broadband gaps. A third and final phase will study the social effects of broadband access. Widmeyer says the partners hope to be able to better seek planning grants and subsidies for one-time broadband construction costs.


"The long-term goal is to follow this phased approach to increase broadband availability in Michigan," she says.


Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently in based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of Merit Network.

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