The PHLConnectED program, which will also provide digital skills training and tech support for families, is an urgent response to schools moving to virtual learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
According to a news release, the three core components of PHLConnectED include:
- Free wired, high-speed, reliable broadband internet to the home from Comcast's Internet Essentials program, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families who are housing-insecure or need a portable option.
- Distribution of devices, such as chromebooks, tablets, or computers.
- Free skills training and tech support for students, families and teachers to ensure they not only get connected, but also stay connected and safely take full advantage of all that the internet has to offer.
"Our goal is to identify and implement affordable, simple and reliable digital access solutions for all our residents," said Mayor Jim Kenney. "By focusing on K-12 student households now, we can have an immediate impact in bridging the digital divide, especially to support distance learning for the upcoming school year."
Eligibility for this program is designed to make sure that families with the greatest need for internet service are prioritized, officials said. The first phase is focused on connecting K-12 student households who currently do not have any internet access or who only have mobile phone access or who are homeless or housing insecure.
According to officials, eligible households will be contacted by their school directly through mail, email, calls or text messages later this month.
PHLConnectED is part of the first stage of a larger digital equity initiative that supports internet adoption and digital literacy skills development.
The first phase of PHLConnectED will cost $17.1 million over two years to implement. According to the city, partners are contributing more than $11 million, the city is contributing $2 million from CARES Act funding, and the remaining costs will be shared among the School District, charter, independent mission, and private schools, as well as other donations.