Cable ISPs and Schools Come Together in New Broadband Connectivity Effort
"Back to school" time has looked very different this year as millions of kids started K-12 classes this week virtually instead of in the classroom. With many schools still closed for in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, America's cable internet service providers have been working in their communities, developing partnerships with school districts across the country that are focused on figuring out which students lack a home broadband connection, and getting service to those kids within reach in order to assist in enabling online instruction. As part of this effort to close this gap, NCTA is partnering with EducationSuperHighway to help public school districts adapt to and enable remote learning for their students through the K-12 Bridge to Broadband program, a new initiative that launched yesterday.
"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 CEO and Founder of ESH Evan Marwell. "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."
The K-12 Bridge to Broadband program aims to help tackle these challenges that school districts are facing by identifying those families in school districts who remain unconnected and to offer sponsored service arrangements to schools, enabling the school to support service costs and the eligible student to receive broadband in a timely manner. NCTA members including Comcast (Xfinity), Charter (Spectrum), Cox, GCI, Mediacom, Midco, Sjoberg's and Vyve have committed to the initiative. Together, these providers offer broadband service to roughly 80% of U.S. homes.
K-12 Bridge to Broadband builds on successful school district and community-based partnerships that are taking root in cities across the country including Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Des Moines. In addition, the program represents only the latest chapter in the cable industry's commitment to broadband adoption programs that are targeted to individual households and have connected more than 10 million people to broadband over the past decade.
NCTA and ESH have taken many of these foundational elements from these partnerships and broadband adoption programs and released a framework of core principles to help scale this model for all K-12 school districts in a NCTA member company's service area. They include the following guidelines under which NCTA members will operate:
• create a "sponsored" service offering for school districts or other entities;
• work with school districts to identify which students need service;
• agree to a baseline set of eligibility standards;
• minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families; and
• not use school-supplied information for targeted marketing of collateral services to families covered by the program.
"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," said NCTA President & CEO Michael Powell. "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."
By standardizing a process for bulk-billing agreements and for how school districts and cable ISPs can better identify those students lacking broadband in their homes, the K-12 Bridge to Broadband program hopes to meaningfully shrink home connectivity gaps and to assist teachers and students throughout the U.S. as they navigate this new learning environment.
For more information on this new initiative and on school partnerships that NCTA members have forged over the course of the pandemic, visit https://www.ncta.com/k12bridge-to-broadband.