Brian Weiss

USTelecom Joins New ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ Initiative

National effort to connect more students for remote and hybrid learning through partnership with national non-profit EducationSuperHighway 

Program enables school districts to identify students without broadband and purchase service for low-income families

WASHINGTON, DC – USTelecom—The Broadband Association, a leading association of connectivity providers and innovators, today announced it will join the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ initiative to help increase home connectivity solutions for students adapting to remote and hybrid learning classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic. This effort is one of many USTelecom member companies have supported since March to ensure students and teachers stay connected to each other and their communities.

The initiative, in partnership with EducationSuperHighway (ESH), a national non-profit committed to closing the classroom connectivity gap, will scale innovative solutions helping public school districts and states identify and connect students in low-income families, enabling more students to participate in remote or hybrid learning. Since the pivot to remote learning began in the spring, many school districts have struggled to determine which families lack internet access at home.

USTelecom member companies, in partnership with school districts and states, will work to identify these unconnected, but serviceable, student households and seek to offer sponsored service arrangements to connect students this school year.

Companies that have committed to this initiative include: AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, Windstream, Consolidated Communications, BBT, Blackfoot, GVTC, Monon Telephone, Rainier Connect, Shentel, Telephone Service Company, TSC Communications, West Texas Rural Telephone, Wilkes Communications/River Street Networks and WT Services. Other member companies are currently evaluating this initiative and may partner at a later date.

“Every student in every zip code in every corner of this country needs connectivity to learn and fulfill their potential,” said USTelecom president and CEO Jonathan Spalter. “From the earliest days of the pandemic, USTelecom members stepped up to provide broadband for distance learning, getting creative to bring bandwidth and service to students in their communities. What is so exciting about the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ program is it provides another solution for broadband companies and school districts to team up to deliver the power and promise of broadband to more students this school year.”

“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 CEO and Founder of ESH Evan Marwell. “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.”

“While the pandemic has affected every student and family across the country, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recognizes some students are impacted more than others and gaps may widen as a result of our current environment,” said CCSSO Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller. “While the situation continues to evolve, CCSSO is committed to supporting state education leaders in their efforts to create systems that will deliver quality education safely and effectively to every student in the next academic year, whether learning happens in-person, remotely, or both.”

The core principles reflected in the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ framework released today include:

  • Companies will create a “sponsored” service offering for school districts or other entities. School districts across the country have already begun partnering with broadband providers to purchase home access for unconnected families in their school district. In a sponsored service model, school systems purchase broadband on behalf of low-income students at a discounted rate provided by broadband service providers. This arrangement removes a major obstacle for students, getting them the tools they need to learn successfully from home.
  • Companies will work together with school districts to identify which students need service. Surprisingly, it is often a daunting task for schools to identify which students lack broadband service but are within reach of a provider. School districts and providers will work together to facilitate the confidential exchange of information to determine student households that do not currently have service. The systems will be built to protect the privacy of student addresses and the confidentiality of provider records but aim to quickly identify households without service.
  • Companies will agree to a baseline set of eligibility standards. In order for a school district to rapidly assess which of their students can be connected under a sponsored service agreement, providers will develop baseline eligibility standards to assist districts in evaluating which students qualify for coverage. At a minimum, the baseline standards will include households containing students on the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.
  • To maximize adoption, companies will minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families. In a sponsored service program, providers should limit the data they require from families only to that required for providing service (i.e. confirming the service address) and reducing fraud (i.e. proof of identity).
  • Companies offering sponsored service arrangements to schools should not use school-supplied information for targeted marketing of collateral services to families covered by the program. Providers would agree to not use any information supplied by schools to target marketing offers to families participating in the sponsored service program for other provider services unrelated to the sponsored service.

More information about the ‘K-12 Bridge to Broadband’ program is available HERE.