US cable launches 'K-12 Bridge to Broadband' program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, a leading broadband technology trade association in partnership with EducationSuperHighway (ESH), a national non-profit that led the work to close the classroom connectivity gap— announced a new initiative to help increase home connectivity solutions for students, as many schools adapt to remote and hybrid learning classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic. The K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative will scale innovative 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.

In announcing the K-12 Bridge to Broadband program, NCTA and ESH released a framework of core principles that will support the initiative from leading cable internet service providers for working with school districts or states to better identify unconnected, but serviceable, student households and to offer sponsored service arrangements that can potentially connect students in this school year. Since the pivot to remote learning began in the spring, many school districts have struggled to determine which families lack internet access at home. Building on the recent successful school district partnerships in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Des Moines and several other cities, the new initiative will help school districts efficiently identify students without service at home.

Last spring, the coronavirus pandemic forced nearly 125,000 schools to close their doors – tasking 55 million teachers and students with quickly adapting to distance learning in the final weeks of the school year. While some schools are moving ahead with classroom learning this fall, a large number remain closed and are relying on remote or hybrid learning as the sole model of instruction. ESH estimates that 9.7 million students — half of which are students of color — don't have a reliable high-speed connection necessary to complete their coursework at home. This could result in significant achievement disparities, especially for those who have been historically marginalized. The new initiative from NCTA and its member companies has the potential to bring us closer towards ensuring all students have equitable access to the internet at home.

Cable broadband providers that have committed to this unique initiative include Comcast (Xfinity), Charter (Spectrum), Cox, GCI, Mediacom, Midco, Sjoberg's and Vyve. These providers offer broadband service to 80% of U.S. homes or 110 million housing units. The K-12 Bridge to Broadband program is non-exclusive and open to all internet service providers wishing to join the effort to help schools identify and connect students to broadband.

The core principles reflected in the K-12 Bridge to Broadband framework released today by 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.

Read the full announcement here.

NCTA – The Internet & Television Association

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