Supporting America's Schools During COVID-19

distance learning

Teacher Appreciation Week has looked very different this year with school closures and students isolated at home with their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a lot of cases, kids are receiving classroom online instruction in order to close out their school year. Teachers and schools have gone to great lengths to continue the learning process for millions of students across the country through virtual means, and America's broadband leaders are working on the backend to not only ensure that their networks are meeting their demands, but to give access to those underserved households and communities lacking a broadband connection. 

Last week, a number of internet service providers announced they were extending their commitments to the FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and in addition, cable operators Comcast, Charter, Cox, Midco, Mediacom, and Sjoberg's also reaffirmed their commitments to American students by offering free connectivity services for eligible families through at least June 30, the end of the school year. ISPs are stepping up during this critical time of need, and never has there been a greater time for them to use their resources and powerful reach than the present. 

NCTA members have long invested in schools and education through initiatives such as their successful 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 helping to further drive student learning across the country and bridge the digital divide:

Most recently, Mediacom announced a partnership last week with Des Moines Public Schools in which they will share the cost to provide free internet access for as many as 1,800 families in the district to help students complete their coursework online due to the pandemic. The provider, which serves areas across rural America, has partnered with schools in the past to bring their connectivity up to speed and is connecting up to 100 homes a day. 

Comcast's Internet Essentials Program—the largest broadband adoption program in the country for low-income families—has connected millions of families whose children would otherwise not be able to connect online to complete a homework assignment. Over the past nine years, the program has provided low-cost computers to students qualifying for free and reduced lunch at school, and free digital literacy training online or at participating community centers. 

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. In addition to offering its discounted 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 which launched two years ago, and in over 100 Cox technology centers spread out across its footprint. 

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. Its Spectrum Digital Education program awards grants to nonprofits that educate communities on the benefits of broadband, and which work towards bridging the digital divide. Charter also announced this week its new scholarship and mentorship initiative, Spectrum Scholars, which awards college scholarships to students in financial need.  

Other cable operators in rural areas also have a history of reaching America's teachers and students.

Midco's efforts in this area 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. 

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. 

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.

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. 

As our work continues to help students and teachers adjust to the demands of distance learning, the cable industry will continue to work in partnership with schools in our communities and with policymakers interested in building on the success of existing programs. One such idea worthy of consideration is a proposal recently introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), that would target new funding to schools to assist students and teachers secure the internet access, equipment, and connected devices that can enable remote learning from home. As we consider such ideas and other proposals to bring targeted, temporary, and technology neutral support that will help our nation respond to new challenges, the cable industry will continue in its efforts to support the educational needs of our schools, our students, and our teachers.