At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures across the state of Connecticut left thousands of students scrambling to continue the school year without a broadband connection at home. While connectivity solutions like Wi-Fi hotspots became freely available to these students, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont knew that more needed to be done. The Governor’s office and the state Department of Education were determined to bridge this gap in time for school to begin remotely in the Fall of 2020. To do so, they came together with Connecticut internet service providers (ISPs), like Cox Communications, with astounding results.
Collaborating to Achieve Results
Only July 28, 2020, Governor Lamont announced the $43.5 million “Everybody Learns” initiative, a groundbreaking public-private partnership that would quickly connect Connecticut students to the broadband services they needed to go back to school from home. A critical component of the initiative was $15 million allocated to connect student households that still needed a broadband connection – with the state paying for one year of service. This would not have been possible without the partnership of ISPs like Cox.
Cox has a long history of connecting families in need. Even before the pandemic, Cox’s Connect2Compete program provided broadband service to qualifying, low-income households at $9.95/month. When the pandemic hit, Cox offered the first two months of Connect2Compete service free to eligible families. So, when the Governor’s office reached out about a partnership, the ISP jumped on board. “The state made it very clear to all of us that every piece was important,” said Peter Talbot, the government affairs manager for Cox Northeast in Connecticut. “Even though Cox is not the largest provider here, it was very important to have us sign on.”
Accelerating Connectivity and Extending Reach
The collaboration between the state and ISP was key both in accelerating the connection process and extending its reach at a crucial time. The state, using CARES Act funds, agreed to cover the first year of Connect2Compete service for families in need. The state and its partners also managed outreach to school districts, who provided ISP partners like Cox with the addresses of student households that did not have a home internet connection. Cox then connected those households to broadband at no-cost to the students’ families.
Together, Cox and the state of Connecticut were able to identify families that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks. “Before this initiative, we had strictly worked with individual school districts,” noted Talbot, “With ‘Everybody Learns,’ we are seeing the state becoming involved in ensuring students get connected.” This includes more affluent communities whose unserved students might have been overlooked if not for the information provided by the state. “There are towns that don’t have a large percentage of free and reduced school-lunch students, but still have families without internet,” Talbot remarked. “Pre-COVID, they could use available Wi-Fi elsewhere, such as at the public libraries. But as these places shut down, the need definitely rose. Thanks to this partnership, we were able to serve areas and districts that we could never have before.”
Of the student addresses that the state of Connecticut provided to Cox, 68% were eligible for Connect2Compete service while another 32% could be serviced by a different low-cost package made possible through CARES Act funding. That meant gearing up to connect thousands of households before the 2020 school year started – no small feat. One of the biggest challenges was as deceptively simple as getting addresses right. The difference between “100 Main 2nd Floor” and “100 Main St. Apt. 2” may not seem like much, but failing to match the data from the state with the data in a Cox database could mean a family getting passed over for internet coverage. The Cox team worked tirelessly to coordinate this effort and get eligible student households online in time for a remote or hybrid fall semester.
Supporting Both Students and Their Families
The success of the “Everybody Learns” initiative only further highlighted the critical role that broadband has played during the pandemic, in Connecticut and across the country. “One of the primary things that keeps individuals away from internet connections is relevance,” said Eric Wagner, director of communications for Cox Northeast. “What COVID-19 did was crystalize that need for internet in the home, especially for families with young children. Now, for those in charge, something that was a back-burner issue has come to the forefront.”
And while partnerships like “Everybody Learns” are popping up across the country at city and district levels, Connecticut was one of the first states to push for connectivity statewide. Thanks to this public-private cooperation, students are able to study, parents can search for jobs or services, and overall awareness of the value of home internet, together with its availability, has risen across the state.
As Cox’s Eric Wagner says, the pandemic has brought the need for reliable internet from the back burner to the forefront for many families. Across the country, many schools, cities, states, and philanthropic organizations are working to connect families in need. Stay up to date on those efforts and learn more about how you can get involved.