PHILADELPHIA—The City of Philadelphia today marked the one-year anniversary, on March 13, 2020, of schools closing due to the global pandemic by announcing updates and milestones for its PHLConnectED program. In response to the transition to remote learning, the City took a number of steps to meet the needs of students, including the launch of PHLConnectED—a multi-year initiative that provides no cost internet service to K-12 student households in need.

Since launch, PHLConnectED has enabled more than 15,000 internet connections. This includes:

  • Over 2,500 students who received MiFi devices from the school district over the spring and summer;
  • More than 7,900 families that signed up for 60 days of free Internet Essentials service and were transitioned into PHLConnectED to have their internet bills paid by the program;
  • And over 4,600 internet connections directly through PHLConnectED to either Internet Essentials or MiFi devices.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in one year,” said Mayor Kenney. “A coalition of businesses, schools, and civic leaders came together to provide for our students. As a result, our city is in the rare position of ensuring that all students have access to the devices and internet connectivity they need. PHLConnectED has successfully provided free internet access to more than 15,000 K-12 families. This shows that when we work together in times of difficulty, we can truly help our community. We’re working with our partners and local organizations to identify any other eligible households and get them connected. Please continue to spread the word about this program so we can help even more families.”

From the start, PHLConnectED offered two internet solutions: reliable broadband internet to the home to benefit the whole family through Comcast’s Internet Essentials (IE) program, or a high-speed mobile hotspot for families who are housing insecure or needed a portable option.

Additionally, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey’s 211 PHLConnectED hotline was established for families to call for more information or to sign up for the program. To date, the hotline has fielded more than 8,400 calls.

“We are grateful that our City, local leaders and businesses came together to help close the digital divide among Philadelphia’s K-12 student households through the PHLConnectED program,” said William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “It has been a year since schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we transition our students to a hybrid learning model, PHLConnectED remains an invaluable resource to help our students achieve academic success.”

PHLConnectED’s initial eligibility requirements were the following:

  • Do not have broadband (in-home/wireline) internet access;
  • Only have internet access through a mobile phone(s);
  • Are experiencing homelessness, are housing insecure, are in-between housing, or are located where a wireline connection may not be possible; and/or
  • Have students who complete their remote learning in locations without internet access.

In December of 2020, the City made the program even more accessible for K-12 families by expanding its eligibility requirements to include those who:

  • Participate in public benefit programs with income qualifications;
  • Have students designated as English Learners; and/or
  • Have students who receive special education services.

To help provide local residents support around technology and digital access, the Digital Navigator network was launched in the spring of 2020 with The Community Learning Center (CLC), the ExCITe Center at Drexel University, and SEAMAAC. Two additional organizations, LULAC National Education Service Centers (LNESC) and Inglis Assistive Tech Solutions (IATS), have recently joined these efforts.

PHLConnectED’s program has also been strengthened by Comcast’s announcement in January of increased speeds for Internet Essentials customers. Comcast increased IE download speeds from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps and upload speeds from 3 Mbps to 5 Mbps. This is the sixth time in 10 years that Comcast has increased its Internet Essentials’ speeds, and the change is now in effect for all K-12 families with Internet Essentials service through the PHLConnectED program.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased challenges related to reaching families and increasing awareness of the program, seven Philadelphia-based organizations are conducting outreach through phone banking, socially distanced door-to-door knocking, and flyer distribution across the city. The City is also focused on direct communications and outreach through the School District and charter schools to ensure any eligible K-12 family has internet access.

To learn more about PHLConnectED, visit Families who may be eligible for no cost internet access through the program should dial 211 and press 1 for English or press 8 for Spanish and translation services. Additionally, stay tuned for future updates, including the planned expansion of enrollment to Pre-K students in need of internet access later this spring.