DC to bridge digital divide with free internet for low-income students

D.C. started a $3.3 million initiative to bridge the digital divide and make sure low-income students have access to free internet now that schools are online virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A strong internet connection is a vital component to making virtual learning a success, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in launching the Internet for All initiative. Its goal is to provide free internet access for as many as 25,000 low-income students who attend D.C. Public Schools and the city’s public charter schools.

“During this virtual school term, we know how critical it is for all of our students to have internet access to successfully learn at home and stay connected to their teachers outside of the classroom,” Bowser said in a news release.

“This investment continues our commitment not only to supporting families during virtual school term, but also to building a more digitally inclusive D.C. in the long-term,” Bowser said.

At a news conference Wednesday, the mayor said the city “will directly pay for access for D.C. families who qualify.”

The initiative will make broadband available to students at home. Broadband is more reliable and powerful than mobile MiFi devices or cellular connections. It will come into homes through Comcast’s Internet Essentials and RCN’s Internet First programs.

In addition, Bowser said the District has already distributed more than 23,000 devices to school kids.

D.C. Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker said her office will reach out to eligible families to directly connect households. Parker said the change will “create a fair shot for everyone” in the city.

“The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for bridging the digital divide in Washington, D.C. As schools begin classes online, students without regular access to the internet are at a severe disadvantage,” Parker said.

Families eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will be covered.

Service will be provided by Comcast and RCN with funding from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of internet provider RCN.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher contributed to this report.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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