I have read many posts on social media about “virtual” education or “online” education and I have participated in some of the discussions. I don’t mean to label all school systems by what I am getting ready to impart, but I do think it needs to be said that most children in North Carolina are getting shortchanged with their virtual experience.

I have compassion for teachers who are trying to teach classes and online students at the same time. Obviously, the teachers have many preparations to make in order to teach. But, I also have compassion for students that are getting behind in their work and for parents who are not equipped or trained to teach their children at home.

In fact, what bothers me most is those students who don’t have equitable access to the internet. My daughter, for example, had access to poor internet service, all because the only company in her area would not upgrade their lines. She called the FCC, talked to state politicians and talked incessantly to the company and nothing worked to get her a better internet experience. Her job depended upon her having dependable service, yet the internet company could not have cared less. The company didn’t mind taking her money every month despite its inferior service. And neither the FCC or a single politician would or could do anything about it.

Can you imagine what happened when her three children were sent home last year to go “virtual” and her poor internet service was the only service she had? It is easy for school officials to say, “We’re going virtual,” but it is quite a different story to parents who are not equipped to handle it.

We hear every year about the North Carolina legislature funding rural internet service, yet high-speed service is still not available in many parts of this state, including the area in which I reside.

Why? When will these companies — many are monopolies — be held accountable for not putting sufficient profits back into their infrastructure?

I read an article in “Carolina Country” magazine recently that talks about the digital issue. The column, “Bridging the Digital Divide,” was written by Maggie Woods, policy and program manager of at the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State. She also runs the BAND-NC program. Her opening paragraph says it all when it comes to the “divide” in this state regarding quality internet service. She wrote, “When the pandemic sent me to work from home in March, I was lucky. At home, I had access to high-speed internet that I could afford, a quality laptop provided by my employer and years of experience working on a computer.”

In other words, Woods was prepared for her online work. But, many others in this state can’t afford high-speed Internet even if it is available and many others don’t even own a computer. Woods says that 40 percent of the people in our state do not have access to high-speed internet.

She also points out that 246,000 households — or about 1 million people — in North Carolina still do not have access to the internet or don’t have quality service.

In my view, that’s sad for a state that every year talks about how much money is going to rural internet service and pretends to be at the forefront of achievement in higher education.

The poor among us, of course, are affected the most. They often can’t afford internet service or digital devices. When students are sent home for “virtual” learning, what happens to the poor children who do not have these services?

One thing Woods suggested is for North Carolinians to take the North Carolina Broadband survey at this link: bit.ly/nc-broadband-survey or by calling 919-750-0553.

It is time to change the digital landscape in North Carolina. It’s time for affordable high-speed internet service for everyone. It is time to make sure that the poor among us have the capacity to have digital devices so they can continue to learn when schools go virtual.

It is time for politicians to work for the people of this state and send telecommunications lobbyists out the door of the legislative building.

Mitchell Oakley is the publisher emeritus of this newspaper.