Ahead of digital school year start, city announces internet access plan for families in need

A student studying online
Photo credit Ridofranz/Getty Images

At a Zoom briefing, Superintendent William Hite said securing the internet for all students required a citywide response.

“We knew there were a significant number of students without reliable access to the internet. So we were clear in saying this was an issue the district could not address alone,” he said. 

Donors to the two-year, $17 million program include Comcast Corporation, Mastery and KIPP Charter Schools, the Lenfest Foundation, the Neubauer Family Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, the Philadelphia School Partnership and the Philadelphia Housing Authority. 

Mayor Kenney said the city was contributing $2 million in CARES Act funding.

“The digital divide was an issue before the pandemic. But it’s been made clear that we can no longer stand by and allow this inequity to continue,” Kenney said. 

Eligible families are being contacted by the school district and given a code to submit to Comcast for the free internet access and technical support.

District chief information officer Melanie Harris said many families have already indicated they had no internet.

“As of Tuesday, our number was 1,800 specific households had reached out and said they needed internet access,” Harris said. “We know it is larger.”

The mayor’s chief education officer Otis Hackney said with schools starting digitally on Sept. 2, there was no time to waste. 

“We knew that we had to do something really quickly so that those families that are not connected had an option,” Hackney said.​