Nacogdoches ISD took an “expensive step but a necessary step,” as board member Dr. Tyrrel Grohman described it, this week in purchasing nearly 5,000 computers so that every student can be assigned their own technological device.

Those of us of a certain age might think this expenditure of around $780,000 is a luxury, but we assure you it is a necessity in an increasingly digital world. When the world is full of computers, we do an injustice to our youth by not providing them with the necessary tools of the present and the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a need for students to have computers in order to complete assignments and participate in class from home. Regardless of that need, we would still applaud the district for purchasing more than 1,800 iPads for young tactile learners and nearly 3,500 Dell Chromebooks for older students.

NISD also purchased 500 mobile hotspots — devices that provide internet access though the same signals used for cellphones — to hand out to economically disadvantaged students who cannot afford reliable internet access.

This is just one piece of what we’ve called the “internet disconnect,” that has been amplified around the country by the pandemic.

A 2019 study by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments found that fiber optic cable needed for broadband internet exists in less than 15 percent of the places it’s needed around the region. The Pew Research Center found that 1 in 4 Americans lack high-speed internet access, either because of high prices or limited service in rural areas.

For too long, internet has been viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. Americans once said the same things about electricity, natural gas and running water. Congress and state lawmakers have the chance to act, and they must.

We expect many changes to come about because of the coronavirus pandemic, and we expect this crisis to be analyzed and written about for decades. When the ink is dry on the history books — if all records aren’t digital by then — we hope that future generations of school children will remember expanded internet access as one of the great accomplishments of the coronavirus era.

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