With the COVID-19 pandemic taking center stage last year, Philadelphia students and families needed to prepare for a school year unlike any other. Students had to learn remotely and their education became completely online.

Suddenly, internet access was more important than ever.

While the City has been working on bridging the digital divide, the pandemic created an urgent need to help students get internet access for online learning. In response, the City worked with a number of partners to launch PHLConnectED—a program that provides free and reliable internet access to pre-K-12 students in need.

PHLConnectED has has enabled over 18,700 internet connections in Philadelphia in its first year.

The program’s first year

Last summer, the City brought together businesses, schools, and civic leaders to create PHLConnectED. When the program first launched, it offered free internet access to K-12 internet households through either Comcast’s Internet Essentials or a T-Mobile MiFi Hotspot.

As the City learned more from its community, the program went through a few changes. Eligibility was expanded to include more families who needed support with internet access. In the spring of 2021, the City extended PHLConnectED to include pre-K students and families.

Thousands of students were able to get free internet access with the support of PHLConnectED.

Looking ahead

While students will be returning to in-person learning in the fall, internet access will continue to be an essential tool. Students need internet access to do research, log into online portals, get homework help, connect with peers, develop skills, and much more.

In support of the above, the City has extended service through PHLConnectED to 2020-21 high school graduates as they go to college or into the workforce.

While PHLConnectED has made an impact in Philadelphia, the City will continue to ensure pre-K-12 students without reliable internet access can get it through PHLConnectED. In the program’s second year, the City will prioritize raising awareness about PHLConnectED. It will work with community-based organizations to conduct outreach, with local education agencies, and with school faculty and staff to spread the word.

Digital Navigators will also continue to be available at six Philadelphia-based organizations to offer help to families who need internet access, devices, or other digital support. Digital literacy—having the skills to use the Internet and devices—will continue to be an important part of the City’s work. Philadelphia residents can also contact a Digital Navigator to get help applying for the federal government’s Emergency Broadband Benefit to save $50 per month on their internet bill.

Any Philadelphia resident without reliable internet access should dial 2-1-1 to see if they qualify for PHLConnectED. For language services, press 8.