With the start of the school year just weeks away, city officials on Thursday announced a plan to provide free internet access for 35,000 low-income families that currently lack it.
Under the plan — which will cost $17 million, paid for with a mixture of philanthropic, school, and local CARES Act funding — some households will be wired for free broadband access via Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, and other families will receive at no charge wireless hot spots purchased by the city from T-Mobile.
Families with children enrolled in the Philadelphia School District and charter schools are eligible for internet access, as are children in Catholic or other private schools; district and charter schools have provided or will provide laptops or tablets for each student. Under the plan, families will also have access to “digital navigators” charged with providing technology support.
Families will be guaranteed free access for two years, but city officials said they mean to continue the program given adequate financial support.
Mayor Jim Kenney called the announcement a “transformational moment” triggered by the pandemic. He said the program will “make a powerful impact on lessening the digital divide.”
Thursday’s announcement comes amid growing public concern and pressure — including two rallies outside the Comcast Center this week — after the district recently announced plans to begin the school year online only starting Sept. 2. But the city has been working with the district, Comcast and others on the project since COVID-19 forced school online in March, officials said.