The EducationSuperHighway (ESH) and NCTA — the Internet & Television Association, have teamed up on a new initiative – the K-12 Bridge to Broadband — designed to help boost home connectivity solutions for students whose schooling will be comprised of remote and hybrid learning.

The K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative builds on successful school district partnerships in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Des Moines and several other cities, NCTA said. A key goal of the program is to help school districts efficiently identify students without service at home.  There are an estimated 9.7 million students who don’t have a reliable high-speed connection. Half of these are students of color, according to the NCTA and ESH.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced an estimated 125,000 schools to close their doors last spring, forcing 55 million teachers and students to quickly adapt to distance learning. Though some schools have reopened for in-person instruction, nearly 10 million students are still in the remote or hybrid learning environment this fall.

Supporting the K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative are Comcast (Xfinity), Charter (Spectrum), Cox, GCI, Mediacom, Midco, Sjoberg’s and Vyve, which together offer broadband service to 80% of U.S. homes or 110 million housing units. Participants have agreed to create a “sponsored” service offering for school districts or other entities. In a sponsored model, school systems purchase broadband on behalf of low-income students at a discounted rate from the broadband providers.

“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 Evan Marwell, ESH CEO and founder, in a prepared statement. “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.”

“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 Michael Powell, president & CEO, NCTA, in a prepared statement about K-12 Bridge to Broadband. “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.”

Comcast, one of the cable companies supporting the effort, last month announced its own program aimed at student broadband, as Telecompetitor reported.

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