The COVID-19 pandemic has changed just about every aspect of our daily lives and the upcoming school year is no exception as many schools will remain closed throughout the fall. The school closures mean that millions of students will remain at home and begin round two of online learning which first kicked off last spring as the pandemic set in.
As teachers and school administrators have been preparing throughout the summer for the continuation of virtual education, America's cable broadband providers have also worked hard to ensure that their networks are meeting the increased surge in online traffic, and to expand programs that provide low-cost solutions for more families to connect to a reliable broadband service.
NCTA members have long invested in schools and education through initiatives such as broadband adoption programs, school and community partnerships, charitable giving, and by serving as information hubs for digital safety. Here are a handful of efforts underway that are expanding internet access so that millions of students can continue learning from home.
Comcast's Internet Essentials Program—the largest broadband adoption program in the country for low-income families—has connected millions of families over the past nine years, in addition to providing low-cost computers for students, and free digital literacy training online or at participating community centers. Through December 2020, new Internet Essentials customers will also receive two months of free service. In addition, Comcast has partnered with Chicago Public Schools on Chicago Connected, a program to provide broadband for students and families that do not currently have access.
Cox has also made a huge difference for families with school-aged children through its Connect2Compete program and its efforts to provide students with a seamless transition in connectivity at home, at school, and in after school programs. Through September 2020, Cox is offering two free months of service for eligible households. In addition to low-cost internet service for qualifying households, the program also offers a plethora of digital resources and media literacy training through its partnerships with youth organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, its very own Cox Digital Academy, and over 100 Cox technology centers.
Charter Communications has made an impact on education through its own broadband adoption program, Spectrum Internet Assist, as well as several other initiatives targeted at assisting underserved students. Through a new Stay Connected K-12 program, the Spectrum Enterprise team will work directly with school districts across their service area to assist them in offering high-speed, cable broadband Internet access to students, educators and staff in their homes.
Other cable operators in rural areas also have a history of reaching America's teachers and students.
Midco offers Lifeline assistance for low-income families for as low as $6 for eligible families. The company's efforts in rural areas include connecting the largest school district in South Dakota (geographically speaking) with high-speed internet despite the obstacles the district faced being in a remote area. The district's students can now access an array of online educational resources they couldn't before due to previous connectivity challenges.
Mediacom has partnerships with Des Moines Public Schools and Waterloo Schools in Iowa to provide free internet access to thousands of families in the districts to help students complete their coursework online. The provider, which serves communities across rural America, connects low-income families throughout their service area via their Connect2Compete program, providing free modems and reduced-cost computers.
GCI's TERRA network, which operates in the remote regions of Alaska where homes are separated by vast distances, rough terrain, and where making the trek to school can often prove a huge ordeal, has connected more than 45,000 Alaskans. The network has allowed students to connect with teachers and experts from anywhere in the world, and has given teachers the chance to receive additional education and training online.
And Sjoberg's, a small, family-owned provider serving northwestern Minnesota, has been making a difference for rural schools and communities, some with as few as 50 people, by working to bring low-cost internet for families in its service area. The ISP has worked with the school superintendent in the Thief River Falls area to ensure that students could participate in the district's distance learning program. This meant going out and installing connectivity for families in the area who had not applied for their Connect2Compete program, but who were then motivated to do so when schools closed.
In response to COVID-19, Vyve established an online education learning program that provides school-aged students who lack internet access with free connectivity until the end of the school year. In addition, Vyve set up hundreds of free Wi-Fi spots across its markets to help people access the internet in places such as parking lots, and partnered with cities, chambers of commerce, and various organizations to establish free Wi-Fi for numerous communities.
As our nation continues to respond to the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cable industry will continue in its efforts to support the educational needs of our schools, our students, and our teachers whether they are learning from school, home or a community center.