May 28, 2022


Your Partner in the Digital Era

How to find high-quality, affordable internet access this school year

  • Rachel Hanebutt and Catherine Gonzalez are doctoral students in the Community Research and Action Program at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.

“The dog ate my homework” excuse may soon be replaced by “The Wi-Fi was down,” as Tennessee students’ transition back to school has underscored the importance of digital access. Despite increased funding for broadband access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennessee ranks below 43 other states on student access to broadband. This limits students, especially Black and brown youth, in their ability to participate fully in school and complete assignments online.

Barriers to family internet access in Nashville

Rachel Hanebutt

Locally, 97% of Davidson County households have access to broadband subscriptions, but only 48% of households actually have a subscription. Evidence suggests that providing additional subscription options is less effective than direct financial support and enhanced, long-term broadband benefits for increasing broadband adoption, especially when it comes to families who have been historically underserved.

A recent county-wide survey conducted by the Nashville Digital Inclusion Taskforce and researchers at Vanderbilt University revealed over half of Nashville residents believe the cost of internet plans is too high and almost 4 out of every 5 residents said they would sign up for a government program to reduce the cost of their internet service if it was available. This study also found that ​​62.5% of residents sampled indicated that they did not know of any low-cost providers.

Subscription cost is just one of the digital access challenges families face. Nationally, lack of device access disproportionately affects low-income students. When it comes to digital skills, the Metro Nashville Public Schools website offers technology support. However, more personalized guidance is needed to connect Tennessee families with resources to get online, stay online and increase their digital skills.

Poplar Grove Middle School Spanish teacher Laura Boyd teaches both in-person and remote students simultaneously on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.

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The tips below provide a starting point — an expanded, printable, plain-language version of this digital access guide (in English and Spanish) are available via