broadband Internet

May 7 is the date that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, declared it was safe to open up schools. The state has had fewer than 500 reported cases of the coronavirus as of this week.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Shortly after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged Governor Kevin Stitt to spend federal relief funds on private school vouchers, Oklahoma’s top education official touted a different idea.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister says she wants to use federal stimulus funds earmarked for education to boost internet connectivity for Oklahoma students.

"Our primary focus is on connectivity and our ability to close the digital divide," Hofmeister said Thursday.

The issue has been highlighted by the challenges districts face as they close out the school year conducting distance learning. Almost a quarter of the state’s students don’t have access to home internet.

Monument Valley, Utah, is the desert backdrop for many famous old Western movies. And even today, kids in the valley are doing their homework the way they did in the 1950s: offline.

"There's a lot of kids that don't have even electricity at home," said Spencer Singer, principal at Monument Valley High School. "You know, for all intents and purposes we operate in a third world-type situation."

Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

With schools shuttered due to COVID-19, many Oklahoma school districts are pivoting to the internet for instruction.

The Oklahoma Universal Service Fund helps schools, public libraries and rural non-profit medical providers pay for internet access. Because of a Federal Communications Commission waiver last week, the Oklahoma fund wants that service to be more widely available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brandy Wreath directs the fund and says that sites can also apply for extra bandwidth if they’re concerned about an increase in users from the general public.

Oklahoma State Department of Education

Joy Hofmeister wants the internet in the home of every Oklahoma student.

In an interview Monday, she said the COVID-19 closures have exposed an equity gap between students who have home internet access and those who don’t.

“I want every one of our Oklahoma students to have access to a computer and internet access at home,” she said. “And I won’t rest until that’s done.”

About a third of people in Oklahoma lack access to broadband.

When Masrat Zahra, a 26-year-old photographer, looks outside her window, she sees a scene familiar to many around the world these days.

“Almost every shop is shut. Streets are empty, deserted. You will hardly see any person on the road,” she said.

But there’s a key difference in how Zahra and millions of others living in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir — a territory that’s part of a larger, disputed region between India and Pakistan — are living through the coronavirus pandemic: excruciatingly slow and sometimes nonexistent internet.

Demand for internet access has shifted from workplaces to residential ones during the coronavirus pandemic, as more adults are working from home and some students are expected to continue their classwork online.

Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET

More people are shifting to the digital world as life outside the home is put on hold. That's putting a lot of pressure on companies to keep connections up when all their employees are trying to telework at the same time. It's also posing challenges for Internet video conferencing services.

In South Korea and Italy in recent weeks, people stuck in their homes are using the Internet a lot more.