Groundbreaking Effort Continues Mission to Connect Students and Residents to Internet Access

PHILADELPHIA—The City of Philadelphia today announced that PHLConnectED has reached a full year since its initial launch in the midst of the global pandemic in summer of 2020 and will continue for a second year through August 2022. PHLConnectED is a City initiative that provides free and reliable internet access to pre-K–12 students in need.

While the City has been focused on the digital divide for years, the pandemic created an urgent need to connect Philadelphia students for online learning. The City responded to that need by bringing together a historic coalition of businesses, schools, and civic leaders to create PHLConnectED, which enabled over 18,700 internet connections in its first year.

Thanks to partners like Comcast, The Lenfest Foundation, The Neubauer Family Foundation, The Philadelphia School Partnership, The William Penn Foundation, Fralic Family Fund, The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, and Hess Foundation, PHLConnectED will continue to provide all eligible students in grades pre-K–12 with internet connectivity through Comcast’s Internet Essentials or a T-Mobile MiFi Hotspot.

With students returning to the classroom this fall, affordable internet access remains an essential learning tool that enables students to do research, complete assignments, get homework help, connect with peers, apply to colleges, and much more. In support of this mission, PHLConnectED will also be extending internet service for class of 2021 graduating high school seniors until January 1, 2022.

“As we end the first year of PHLConnectED, we’re looking to the future to ensure that the goal towards digital equity across Philadelphia for all residents is delivered,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “The need for free or affordable internet access goes beyond remote learning for students. In addition to PHLConnectED, there is now federal funding available to help any family in need. If any pre-K–12 family is not connected yet or needs help affording their internet, I encourage them to start the process to get free internet through PHLConnectED by dialing 2-1-1 and pressing 1. For language services, press 8.”

The City remains committed to ensure pre-K–12 students without reliable internet access can get enrolled in PHLConnectED. Affordability is one of several  barriers to internet adoption in Philadelphia. PHLConnectED has addressed the affordability barrier and the City plans to prioritize raising awareness about the program in year two. The obstacles that keep people from being connected are layered and complex, which means a united and continued public-private collaboration will be needed to raise awareness of the availability of no- or low-cost programs.

Because of this need, the City will continue to work with community-based organizations to conduct grassroots outreach. Digital Navigators are also available at six Philadelphia-based organizations to provide digital support and assistance for families who need internet access. Additionally, the PHLConnectED team will continue to work closely with the School District of Philadelphia, charter schools, and Independence Mission Schools to reach out to prepare for back-to-school as well as connect with faculty and students. The primary goal of year two of the program aims to increase enrollment rates and continue to promote awareness so families can get free internet access.

Moving forward, it is critical that the City and the country address affordability and adoption of internet access so that low-income households are not cut out of participating in online education and the economy. Mayor Kenney and the City of Philadelphia support the federal Infrastructure Bill’s Digital Equity Act to ensure households are aware of their options and can get the skills they need to use the Internet to meet their daily needs.

Philadelphia residents can 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 pre-K–12 family without reliable internet access should dial 2-1-1 to see if they qualify for free internet access through PHLConnectED. For language services, press 8.

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