Philly Pushes $17 Million Broadband Access Ahead of Online School Start

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On Thursday, Philadelphia city officials announced a plan to provide free internet access for 35,000 low-income families, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. Since the start of the school year is just a few weeks away, with Philadelphia public schools beginning the year “online-only,” the city aims to bridge the gap for 35 percent of households with school children who lack broadband access.

Providing access will cost the city $17 million, funded by philanthropic, school, and local CARES Act money. Broadband will be provided by Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, estimated at $7.2 million over two years, and via T-Mobile hotspots, costing $5.1 million. A “digital navigator” program is also in the works, supplying families with technology support, which will run the city $1.7 million. To date, $11 million has been pledged toward the program.

According to the Inquirer, families with children enrolled in the Philadelphia School District and charter schools are eligible for internet access, as are children in Catholic or other private schools. In addition, district and charter schools will supply laptops or tablets to each student.

Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the city did not seek competitive bids for the broadband service because Comcast “is citywide.” “We don’t have another provider who has complete 100% coverage,” he added.

Under the program, families are guaranteed free access for two years, with city officials planning to extend the program contingent upon financial support. Mayor Jim Kenney called the announcement a “transformational moment” triggered by the pandemic. He said the program would “make a powerful impact on lessening the digital divide,” reported the Inquirer.

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