Digital Equity

NCTA and EducationSuperHighway to Help Schools Identify Home Broadband Gaps

Two organizations have kicked off a project to help increase home connectivity for students. The "K-12 Bridge to Broadband" initiative is the brainchild of the Internet & Television Association (NCTA) and EducationSuperHighway, a national nonprofit that helped lead work to close the classroom connectivity gap. The goal is to help public school districts and states identify the students who need access to the internet and potentially connect them.

The endeavor included development of five "core principles" that participating companies agree to follow:

  • Broadband companies will create a "sponsored" service offering that schools can specifically use to help students and families get online;

  • Companies will work with districts to identify which students need broadband service, including development of "standard processes" that cover how to exchange information confidentially as part of identifying student households lacking broadband service;

  • Companies will develop a baseline set of eligibility standards, to help schools assess which students are eligible to be connected under a sponsored service agreement; one possible standard: to cover households with students on the Free and Reduced Lunch program;

  • Companies will minimize the amount of information needed when families sign up, to maximize adoption; and

  • Companies need to avoid using information supplied by schools for targeted marketing of collateral services to participating families.

While the program is open to any internet service providers, so far, eight members of NCTA covering 80 percent of U.S. households have signed on to participate:

  • Comcast (Xfinity);

  • Charter (Spectrum);

  • Cox;

  • GCI;

  • Mediacom;

  • Midco;

  • Sjoberg's; and

  • Vyve.

"For months, our local school district partners have told us that they can't increase home access because they don't know which families are without it," said Evan Marwell, the CEO and founder of EducationSuperHighway, in a statement. "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."

"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," added Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA. "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."

Calling the new program a "step in the right direction," Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president and director-counsel, noted that "there is more work to be done to fully address the digital divide and eliminate the racial disparities with regard to adequate access to the internet in both rural and urban communities." Ifill encouraged broadband providers and school districts "to continue to work together to make sure that all of America's children receive the robust public education to which they are entitled."

Links to each cable company's contacts is on the K-12 Bridge to Broadband website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.