COVID-19 Response

CA State Agencies, Companies and Philanthropists Step Up to Close Digital Divide

To bridge the "digital divide" in California, state agencies, private companies and philanthropists, urged on by Gov. Gavin Newsom, have stepped forward to deliver internet access to households without it and to provide computing devices to students who need them.

About one in five students in the state lack high-speed Internet or an appropriate computing device at home. In a recent parent survey done by the Education Trust-West, 50 percent of low-income families and 42 percent of families of color reported that they lacked sufficient devices at home to access distance learning.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is putting up an estimated $30 million to help school systems in the state get families internet access and computing devices for their students; those funds will be distributed through the state's Department of Education. The commission is dedicating $25 million from the California Teleconnect Fund for hotspots and Internet service for student households. School districts will be able to apply to receive 50 percent discounts on the cost of hotspot devices and on monthly recurring service charges until September 30, 2020. Rural, small and medium-sized districts will be prioritized. And CPUC is proposing to make $5 million available from the California Advanced Services Fund, as well, to cover the costs of computing and hotspot devices. There, the focus will be on communities with large numbers of low-income households, high percentages of residents with limited English proficiency and high percentages of residents with limited education attainment.

The California State Transportation Agency is working with the city of Sacramento to convert and deploy seven transit buses to be used as "super hotspots," with connectivity going out 500 feet, in a pilot beginning on May 1, 2020. The buses will be parked in locations for between four and eight hours, while providing connectivity to people in their homes or cars.

Additionally, these pledges have been made:

  • T-Mobile and Amazon will be donating 13,000 and 10,000 tablets, respectively;

  • The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Jack Dorsey and Ann and John Doerr are each donating a million dollars;

  • Apple has given the equivalent of 9,000 iPads and is offering schools special pricing for iPads with cellular;

  • HP Inc. is donating 5,000 Chromebooks, and Lenovo is donating 4,000 Chromebooks;

  • Verizon is partnering with California to provide 250,000 students with unlimited Internet service at a discount; and

  • A number of individuals and organizations have donated sums between $50,000 and $500,000.

Monetary contributions will be deposited in a fund established at the Californians Dedicated to Education (CDE) Foundation and used to make bulk-purchases of computing and hotspot devices for allocation to school districts in need, with a priority on rural and low-income communities.

"School may be physically closed, but class is still in session," said Newsom, in a statement. "But for class to be in session, it is imperative that California addresses the inequities in access to computers, technology tools and connectivity to ensure that online learning can in fact reach all of California's children. It's inspiring to see parents, teachers, businesses and philanthropy step up to meet this moment and provide tools to help bridge the digital divide and get more students connected."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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