Back to School With Broadband: Here’s What You Need to Know

A young girl takes a distance learning course

School is back in session! And thanks to widely accessible vaccines, many schools across the country are welcoming students back to campuses this fall. This does not mean, however, that virtual instruction will disappear. Buoyed by the success of online learning, many school systems are exploring different ways to incorporate hybrid learning into the future.

Distance and hybrid learning, of course, is only possible with a high-speed internet connection. Fortunately, broadband providers have stepped up during the COVID crisis, and how schools are planning to embrace distance learning technology in the year ahead.

Bringing broadband to students in need during Covid

With over a hundred thousand schools shutting down in March 2020, some 10 million students—overwhelmingly low-income and students of color—were left without physical classrooms or access to the internet. Internet service providers stepped into this void, collaborating with businesses, community advocacy organizations, and government agencies to meet the need for broadband expansion through a series of programs, including:

    1. K-12 Bridge to Broadband
      K-12 Bridge to Broadband connects internet service providers with school districts to deliver free or low-cost broadband service to families in need. This partnership between broadband providers and the national non-profit EducationSuperHighway (ESH) was also supported by $150 billion in CARES Act funding and some 12,000 schools signed up for the program. In many cases, providers built on existing low-cost internet programs, like Cox’s Connect2Compete or Comcast’s Internet Essentials Partnership Program. They used the structure of K-12 Bridge to Broadband to either scale those programs up significantly or adapt them to local needs.
    2. Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
      The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), allotted $3.2 billion to provide eligible households with a $50 monthly discount on broadband service. Families who qualify for free or reduced lunch or suffered a substantial loss of income during the pandemic are eligible for the program. The benefit also offers $75 to families living on tribal lands and a $100 reimbursement when members purchase a connected device.

Long-term investments in hybrid instruction

Thanks to these programs, students were able to stay connected despite the challenges of COVID-19. Now, as we move forward into the fall semester, this expanded broadband capacity will continue to play an essential role as administrators embrace the benefits of hybrid learning and keep a close eye on evolving COVID variants.

For one school district in San Antonio, Texas, improved internet access has provided the opportunity to innovate and keep kids safe as they return to school this fall. The school district set up thousands of mobile hotspots, adopted a new learning management system, and worked with local officials to expand the city’s fiber-optic capacity. In addition, they are equipping classrooms with camera-and-microphone rigs that follow teachers around the room, which will improve the remote learning experience for students who choose to stay home. These updates are part of an ongoing long-term investment in hybrid instruction, ensuring learning continuity and providing greater flexibility for students and teachers in the future.

Other school districts are taking advantage of enhanced broadband to onboard fully remote teachers. Dougherty County, Georgia, a rural community with a sizeable low-income population, is working with Elevate K-12 to hire certified remote instructors to fill critical teaching vacancies. And in Guildford County, North Carolina, the district has created two full-time virtual schools enrolling some 7,000 students. These new positions, which were made possible in large part by broadband expansion programs, reflect the continued shift toward virtual learning in our public school system.

Hybrid learning is here to stay

Pandemic or no pandemic, hybrid learning is here to stay. As schools adapt to new learning models, we have to continue our efforts to ensure every student has an equal opportunity to participate in what is rapidly becoming a revolution in education. To find out how you can join the campaign to make distance learning available to all, click here.