Unaffordable internet service is keeping millions of kids and their families offline despite heavy investments that have brought broadband to many neighborhoods.

But school leaders can take some comfort in efforts that are now getting underway to close that gap and provide access to more of their learners. There’s also a role school districts can play in helping families get financial assistance, according to a report in District Administration.

The nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, which has connected tens of millions of students at their schools over the last several years, is now transitioning to help underserved communities access the web.

More than 28 million of the nation’s 122.8 million households do not have high-speed broadband, but it’s not because the connections aren’t available. More than 18 million of these households — home to nearly 47 million people — can’t afford to connect to the service available in their areas, according to EducationSuperHighway’s just-released “No Home Left Offline” report.

This “affordability gap” accounts for two-thirds of America’s digital divide. In all but seven states, cost is the leading reason people aren’t connected to the internet.

The report identified two other barriers:

  • The broadband affordability gap disproportionately affects low-income, Black and Latino Americans and individuals with less than a high school education.
  • As few as 17% of Americans eligible for federal broadband affordability programs participate due to awareness, trust and enrollment barriers.

District leaders may want to reach out to families to provide more information about federal benefit programs. “Many unconnected households are concerned about sharing personal information as part of the sign-up process and are skeptical the Emergency Broadband Benefit will actually cover the cost of their home broadband connection,” the report says.

The federal government, with bipartisan support, has devoted $20 billion to the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability program, while internet service providers are increasing the availability and speed of affordable broadband plans, the report says.

EducationSuperHighway is embarking on the following strategies to connect more homes, which will give more students access to remote learning:

  1. Develop a data-gathering system to identify unconnected households on an ongoing basis.
  2. Deploy free Wi-Fi to low-income apartment buildings.
  3. Launch programs to help households sign up for federal broadband assistance and home broadband service.
  4. Help states design broadband plans to take advantage of federal funding.
  5. Demonstrate innovative projects and create playbooks for states, cities, districts, housing authorities and other trusted institutions to scale broadband adoption.