Cable Industry Plans to Connect K-12 Students to Broadband

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NCTA – the Internet & Television Association is working with the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway (ESH) on an initiative to help close the homework gap. They say the K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative will scale solutions that are helping public school districts and states identify and potentially connect students in low-income families, enabling more students to participate in remote or hybrid learning.

The NCTA and ESH unveiled a framework of core principles that will support the initiative from cable internet service providers for working with school districts or states to better locate unconnected, but serviceable, student households and to offer sponsored service arrangements that can potentially connect students in this school year. ESH estimates that 9.7 million students — half of whom live in low-income households — don’t have a reliable high-speed connection necessary to complete their coursework at home during the pandemic. The project builds on recent successful school district partnerships in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Des Moines and other cities.

Cable broadband providers that have committed to the initiative include Comcast (Xfinity), Charter (Spectrum), Cox, GCI, Mediacom, Midco, Sjoberg’s and Vyve. The program is non-exclusive and open to all internet service providers.  

The school-focused service program complements many of the low-cost broadband service plans offered to individual qualifying households that cable ISPs have been offering for years – often for $10 per month – which have already connected roughly 10 million low-income individuals to broadband. A number of successful partnerships between school districts and broadband service providers have been launched in recent weeks.

The core principles reflected in the K-12 Bridge to Broadband framework EducationSuperHighway and NCTA include:

  • NCTA member companies will create a “sponsored” service offering for school districts or other entities. School districts across the country have already begun partnering with broadband providers to purchase home access for unconnected families in their school district. In a sponsored service model, school systems purchase broadband on behalf of low-income students at a discounted rate provided by broadband service providers. This arrangement removes a major obstacle for students, getting them the tools they need to learn successfully from home.
  • NCTA member companies will work together with school districts to identify which students need service. Surprisingly, it is often a daunting task for schools to identify which students lack broadband service but are within reach of a provider. School districts and providers will work together to facilitate the confidential exchange of information to determine student households that do not currently have service. The systems will be built to protect the privacy of student addresses and the confidentiality of provider records but aim to quickly identify households without service.
  • NCTA member companies will agree to a baseline set of eligibility standards. In order for a school district to rapidly assess which of their students can be connected under a sponsored service agreement, providers will develop baseline eligibility standards to assist districts in evaluating which students qualify for coverage. At a minimum, the baseline standards will include households containing students on the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.
  • To maximize adoption, NCTA member companies will minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families. In a sponsored service program, providers should limit the data they require from families only to that required for providing service (i.e. confirming the service address) and reducing fraud (i.e. proof of identity).
  • NCTA member companies offering sponsored service arrangements to schools should not use school-supplied information for targeted marketing of collateral services to families covered by the program. Providers would agree to not use any information supplied by schools to target marketing offers to families participating in the sponsored service program for other provider services unrelated to the sponsored service.

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