At least 124,000 U.S. schools have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, schools are pivoting to online education.
Unfortunately, about 3 million students do not have access to the internet at home due to high costs and gaps in availability. That leaves a large number of students without ways to further their education. School districts and some of the best internet providers are coming together to help connect students to their virtual classrooms.
During this crisis, internet providers are doing something unprecedented -- offering free or discounted internet options for students and low-income households. We're breaking down the big players and their resources for students.
AT&T is partnering with participating K-12 schools and colleges to give free wireless data for 60 days via school-issued 4G LTE tablets and hotspot devices. Most households who don't have broadband internet service are within reach of these cellular signals.
AT&T also has a low-income internet program called Access from AT&T. New participants who qualify will receive two free months of service. Those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch (NSLP) or Head Start programs or who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are eligible.
AT&T is available in 21 states, with its most expansive coverage in California, Texas, and Florida.
For university students specifically, Xfinity is offering new customers a prepaid Visa gift card for $150 (which covers roughly two months of service). The deal comes with free self-installation and no upfront fees. The gift card arrives a few weeks after you sign up and install, so you may need to pay for those two months upfront and will then be reimbursed. To participate, you will need to verify you're a student by uploading some relevant documents, and you must be a new customer.
Xfinity is offering two free months of internet service for those who qualify for its Internet Essentials package. It's a limited-income program for people who are eligible for public assistance like Medicaid, SSI, the NSLP, Housing Assistance, and others. Speeds will be also increased to 25Mbps for anyone who has the Internet Essentials package.
Xfinity is the largest cable internet provider with a presence in 39 states. Its top serviced areas are Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and San Jose.
Spectrum is offering one of the best deals: free broadband and Wi-Fi (up to 100Mbps) for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who don't currently have Spectrum service. Installation and prepayment fees are waived. Only new customers are eligible, and the deal is applied as a credit for the first two months of service.
Spectrum is available in 41 states, mostly concentrated in the cities of Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Saint Louis, and San Antonio.
Both Optimum and Suddenlink, under the same parent company, are offering new customers free internet for 60 days. Households with students (K-12 and college students) who don't have home internet service are eligible for the Altice Advantage 30Mbps broadband solution.
Optimum is available in just four states on the East Coast: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Suddenlink services 20 states, mostly in the South -- primarily Texas, West Virginia, and Louisiana.
Cox is offering a discounted starter package for $20 per month and 50Mbps. Its internet service starter package is typically $30 for 10Mbps, so that's a pretty significant upgrade.
The company also has a low-income internet program, Connect2Compete. Cox is offering two months free ($10 per month after) and increasing speeds to 50Mbps. Families with K-12 children eligible for NSLP, SNAP, and those who receive Tenant-Based Vouchers, Project-Based Vouchers or Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA), or those who live in Public Housing can apply.
Cox is available in 19 states, with the strongest coverage in Arizona, California, and Virginia.
In California, Google is working with the local government to set up 100 000 Wi-Fi hotspots in rural households that will be free for three months. Google is also donating 4000 Chromebooks to students.
Many schools are doing what they can to support online education for their students. Some districts are deploying WiFi-enabled school buses to park in different neighborhoods during the day to offer internet access to students in the area. Some school districts are partnering with cell phone providers to give students LTE-enabled tablets or laptops and mobile hotspots.
Students seeking internet access should check with their district, university, and local internet provider for resources available to them.