The city of Philadelphia, PA will launch a $17 million connectivity initiative – PHLConnectED – that will provide two years’ of free internet access to 35,000 families who have K-12 public school students. Philadelphia plans to begin its school year with remote-only learning on September 2nd. According to census data, 30% of Philadelphia households with school children lack internet access, with 58% of households making under $70,000 a year not having access at all. Only 50% of Black households have internet access, while 74% of white households do.
Some of the recipients will be wired for free broadband access via Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, while others will receive free wireless hot spots purchased by the city from T-Mobile. Families will also have access to “digital navigators” who will provide technology support and will receive learning devices, including Chromebooks and tablets.
The initiative is funded by $2 million from the local CARES Act, and private donors including the William Penn Foundation, the Neubauer Family Foundation, the Philadelphia School Partnership, among others. Comcast is the largest donor having contributed $7 million.
“The digital divide here has been long-standing. This divide is a barrier to our goal,” Superintendent William R. Hite said. “We need to have all partners working together to help level the playing field. Speed and reliable access are critical to digital learning.”
PHLConnectED is the first of the three key strategies of the city’s digital equity program that has the goal of “reimagining public technology access services.” The program will also seek to develop public computing centers for people to access computers and digital services easily and seek to guarantee that all Philadelphians have access to affordable and reliable digital solutions to have access to essential online services.