School Districts Across America Have New Options to Connect Their Students for Remote and Hybrid Learning

In partnership with national non-profit EducationSuperHighway, NCTA, USTelecom, NTCA and their member companies will launch programs that enable school districts to identify and connect students without broadband.

The K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative will enable more students to participate in remote or hybrid learning for the 2020-21 school year by identifying student needs, standardizing eligibility, and facilitating enrollment for sponsored services. NCTA, USTelecom, NTCA and their member companies are committed to common principles to work with public school districts or states to identify and connect students.

While some schools are moving ahead with classroom learning this fall, many remain closed and rely on remote or hybrid learning as the sole model of instruction. EducationSuperHighway estimates that 9.7 million students – a startling half of whom are students of color – don’t have a reliable high-speed connection necessary to complete their coursework at home.

Since the pivot to remote learning began, many school districts have struggled to determine which families lack access at home. The K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative is modeled off the innovative Chicago Connected program which brought together philanthropists, city leaders, the school district and local broadband providers to efficiently identify and connect students without service at home. The K-12 Bridge to Broadband program will now take this model to national scale in partnership with broadband providers across the country so that every school district can quickly identify and connect their students to remote learning.

“For months, our local school district partners have told us that they’ve struggled to increase home access because they don’t know which families are without it,” said CEO and Founder of EducationSuperHighway Evan Marwell. “This isn’t something we can wait on, because every day, more students are falling behind. By giving schools the data that shows which students need access, we can speed up the process of getting kids back to learning as quickly as possible.”

The K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative promotes five core principles for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) working with school districts or states to identify students without broadband at home and advance quick and effective solutions. 1) Create a sponsored service offering for school districts to purchase Internet services for students at home; 2) Provide the data that school districts need to identify students that lack at-home broadband; 3) Agree to a baseline set of eligibility standards; 4) Minimize the amount of information required to sign up to facilitate enrollment for families in need; and, 5) Commit to protect the privacy of participating families, by not using the supplied information for targeting marketing. These key principles will help bring districts across the country closer to the goal of 100% home connectivity access for their students.

“We are thrilled that Chicago Connected is—as hoped—being used by other cities and school districts as a sustainable, public-private model to bring critically-needed digital access to students across the country,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “Built on thoughtful, community-focused collaborations and developed in concert with our philanthropic partners, this effort is exactly the kind of innovative solution we need throughout the nation to address a challenge of this size and urgency.” While a number of successful partnerships between school districts and broadband service providers have been forged in recent months, this announcement seeks to energize and scale this model by releasing common baseline principles and commitments that will be applicable to all K-12 schools throughout a broadband provider’s coverage area. State and district leaders can visit digitalbridgek12.org to find out if there is a service provider who is supporting programming of this kind in their community.

“Like so many things, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to ensuring every student is connected,” said NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield. “But we believe solutions start by having schools and broadband providers simply talk with each other at a local level. As ‘hometown providers’ who live and raise families in the areas they serve, our members have a unique opportunity to lead rural communities in solving this issue.”

“America’s broadband networks are continuing to play a critical role in helping the nation adapt to changes in daily life required by the COVID pandemic,” said Michael Powell, President & CEO, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. “As the school year begins, these changes are front and center in many parts of the country, with family rooms temporarily replacing classrooms and more schools using online instruction to continue their educational mission.  In rising to these challenges, the cable industry is continuing to provide robust and reliable service and is redoubling our efforts to work collaboratively with schools, communities and other partners to get families connected through innovative new service models that will foster and sustain the educational progress of our children.”

“Every student in every zip code in every corner of this country needs connectivity to learn and fulfill their potential,” said USTelecom president and CEO Jonathan Spalter. “From the earliest days of the pandemic, USTelecom members stepped up to provide broadband for distance learning, getting creative to bring bandwidth and service to students in their communities. What is so exciting about the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ program is it provides another solution for broadband companies and school districts to team up to deliver the power and promise of broadband to more students this school year.”

About EducationSuperHighway EducationSuperHighway was founded in 2012 with the mission of upgrading the Internet access in every public school classroom in America. The organization took on this mission because it believes that digital learning has the potential to provide all students with equal access to educational opportunity and that every school requires high-speed broadband to make that opportunity a reality. EducationSuperHighway is funded by national philanthropic organizations, and our mission is supported by governors in all 50 states. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, ESH started the Digital Bridge K-12 (digitalbridgek12.org) program to help school districts and states identify and connect students who lack home digital access.

About Chicago Connected Chicago Connected is a groundbreaking program that will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. This first-of-its-kind program will be one of the largest and longest-term efforts by any city to provide free, high-speed internet over the course of four years to increase internet access for students.