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Service provider groups NTCA and USTelecom and their member companies have joined the K-12 Bridge to Broadband program spearheaded by the national non-profit EducationSuperhighway (ESH). The initiative aims to help students that don’t have high-speed broadband gain that service.

The lack of access has become a critical issue in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as students across the country are starting the academic year with hybrid or remote learning situations with their schools in total or partial lockdowns. ESH estimates that 9.7 million don’t have a reliable high-speed connection; with half being students of color.

Service provider NCTA and member companies — including Charter, Comcast, Cox and others — previously announced their participation in K-12 Bridge to Broadband, as Telecompetitor reported.

The K-12 Bridge to Broadband program is modeled after the Chicago Connected program and similar programs in other cities that seek to help identify students lacking broadband internet and to help them enroll in vendor-sponsored services. K-12, Connected Chicago and similar programs are joint efforts of school and city officials, carriers, philanthropists, city leaders and school leaders to identify and connect students without broadband service in their homes.

The program hopes to go national, partnering with broadband providers to help increase student access to high-speed connections.

“We are thrilled that Chicago Connected is—as hoped—being used by other cities and school districts as a sustainable, public-private model to bring critically-needed digital access to students across the country,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, in a prepared statement “Built on thoughtful, community-focused collaborations and developed in concert with our philanthropic partners, this effort is exactly the kind of innovative solution we need throughout the nation to address a challenge of this size and urgency.”

“Like so many things, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to ensuring every student is connected,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield in a prepared statement about the K-12 Bridge to Broadband program. “But we believe solutions start by having schools and broadband providers simply talk with each other at a local level. As ‘hometown providers’ who live and raise families in the areas they serve, our members have a unique opportunity to lead rural communities in solving this issue.”

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