Unprecedented Collaboration with Philadelphia to Assist Students through Pandemic
“If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is the progress that has been made in closing the digital divide across the country and the historic collaboration we’ve witnessed in Philadelphia between the City, school district, non-profits, philanthropists and private business to help us do that,” said Andrea Custis, President & CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia.
We couldn’t agree more. While Comcast has been focused on helping to close the digital divide for decades, it took the pandemic to really coalesce multiple organizations and partners to work toward a solution – a necessary step to solve a problem as complex as this. As a result, the Internet Essentials Partnership Program was born specifically to help accelerate internet adoption at this critical time. Today, hundreds of schools, school districts, and other organizations across the country, including the School District of Philadelphia, offer Internet Essentials to their students who are most in need.
Comcast is committed to improving the communities we serve – where our customers and employees live and work – across the country. Fittingly, nowhere does that commitment shine so brightly as in our headquarters city of Philadelphia, our home for more than 50 years. Every day we make choices that reflect our commitment to this city and our role as civic connectors — especially in times of crisis.
Here, we immediately answered the call from Mayor Kenney and School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite, to help students not only finish their spring semester as best they could, but also create a long-term solution to ensure students were connected in the fall. We led the convening of the coalition of philanthropic and civic leaders that would launch the City of Philadelphia’s PHLConnectED program this past August, which now helps connect low-income K-12 public school student households to reliable internet at no cost to them for up to two years.
Mark Gleason, executive director at Philadelphia School Partnership said it well, “Everybody stepping up together was really the only way that this could work.” As a result of this collaboration, more than 11,000 Philadelphia K-12 families have crossed the digital divide since the start of the pandemic. And they will all keep their connectivity courtesy of the PHLConnectED program, which Comcast supported with a $7 million donation.
The three core components of the PHLConnectED program 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 from T-Mobile;
- 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.
Beyond PHLConnectED and our $7 million donation to its funding, Comcast assisted the city in other ways throughout the pandemic, including the following additional efforts:
- In mid-March, after school buildings closed, we made Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most successful digital adoption initiative, free for 60 days and increased speeds so families could log on to school, and opened up all of our public Wi-Fi hot spots for anyone to use.
- In March, the Roberts family made a gift of $5 million to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia to pay for up to 50,000 Chromebooks for students who lacked personal devices.
- In May, when the class of 2020 and their parents had to celebrate their high school commencements and face their uncertain futures in their living rooms instead of an auditorium, we provided technical and production support for the virtual graduation of the city’s roughly 13,000 high school seniors.
- In June, Comcast committed a $1.5 million unrestricted grant contribution to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia to provide resources with maximum flexibility for unanticipated needs.
- In August, we donated 225 iPads for students and teachers at Strawberry Mansion High School and 160 iPads for students and teachers at Northeast High School.
- In September, Comcast worked with the city to upgrade 25 Parks & Recreation facilities in Philadelphia to high-speed Wi-Fi “Lift Zones,” to serve as a safe space for students who are unable to learn remotely at home. These Lift Zones will also help more than 35,000 community members get online for years to come.
Comcast employees have been working relentlessly with our nonprofit partners and elected officials to have trusted voices spread the word about these programs, especially PHLConnectED. While no one knows for sure what the next year will look like, we will continue to support our hometown and help drive substantive change.