For parents struggling with the uncertainty of employment while also dealing with a global pandemic, paying for an internet connection may be the last thing on their minds. But with the closure of nearly every public and private school in America, many school systems are relying on the internet to make sure their students can keep learning.
Even in the days before COVID 19, a strong and reliable internet connection was integral to functioning in our information age. During this time of social distancing and self-quarantine, a strong internet connection is essential.
Unfortunately, far too many students lack access to a reliable internet connection. According to a Pew Research Study, 44% of households with incomes below $30,000 don’t have broadband. And while many Americans rely on smartphones for internet access, 29% of lower-income people don’t even have smartphones.
For parents struggling to make ends meet, the costs of groceries could take precedent overpaying for the internet.
In a time like this, school system leaders cannot shy away from the mission of providing equitable access to education for all students. Fortunately, corporate citizens like Comcast, Charter Communications, and AT&T are stepping up to help school systems provide internet access. For Comcast President Dave Watson, “It is vital that as many Americans as possible stay connected to the Internet – for education, work, and personal health reasons.”
On March 12th, as school closures began, Comcast announced a number of initiatives to help our nation’s students:
- All Xfinity Wifi hotspots in businesses and outdoor locations are available to anyone for free.
- All Comcast customers receive unlimited data for 60 days for no additional charge.
- Internet Essentials, a service for low-income households that normally costs $9.95 a month, is free for new customers for 60 days.
- New educational content for all grade levels is available to customers, in partnership with Common Sense Media.
Charter Communications announced that its Spectrum service would install both broadband and Wifi for K-12 and college students for free for 60 days, while also opening its Wifi hotspots to the public.
Comcast’s and Charter’s response came in advance of the Federal Communication Commission’s March 24th challenge to providers to take the “Keep America Connected Pledge.” The pledge is for the next 60 days to (1) not terminate service to any residential or business customer unable to pay, (2) waive late fees for any residential or business customer, and (3) open Wifi hotspots to any American who needs them.
On March 24, AT&T announced that it would offer schools activating new lines free wireless data service for 60 days and expand access to its $10/month Access from AT&T service to any household receiving free or reduced-price lunch or Head Start, beginning with two months of free service.
And smaller, regional internet providers have announced similar initiatives.
For large school districts like Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland, ensuring that 135,000 students continue their education is a top priority. With over 60% qualifying for free or reduced lunch, reliable, low-cost, internet is essential.
When asked about the impact of Comcast’s support, PGCPS CEO Dr. Monica Goldson said, “For some of our students, lack of equal access to Wi-Fi hotspots, connected devices, and mobile broadband internet will make continuing their education nearly impossible. It is not because they are unwilling, but these students simply are unable to get online at a time when they have no choice. Public spaces are closed and the economy is sputtering, leaving many to cut back on expenses.”
Schools in many states will likely be closed for at least another month. As parents around the country try to create a sense of normalcy for their kids, it is reassuring to know corporate citizens such as Comcast, Charter, and AT&T are stepping up in a major way.