IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

EveryoneOn Connects K-12 Families With Internet Services

The nonprofit EveryoneOn has helped more than 800,000 Americans find low-cost Internet service and digital resources, and its outreach has only become more important for K-12 students with the advent of remote education.

rural broadband internet
For nearly a decade, the national digital inclusion nonprofit EveryoneOn has worked to close the digital divide through outreach campaigns designed to direct low-income families to affordable Internet services now needed for everything from remote education to work itself.

With K-12 digital equity being thrust into the spotlight during COVID-19 school closures, the nonprofit’s efforts have become arguably more important than ever.

CEO Norma Fernandez said families now have more options available to them, thanks to a recent surge of federal and state funds devoted to Internet connectivity and devices needed for virtual learning. She said the pandemic created a sense of urgency for efforts geared toward K-12 digital inclusion.

“I think it galvanized us,” she said. “It galvanized everyone from the federal government, state and local, philanthropic communities and local organizations to address this issue.”

Over the course of the public health crisis, federal relief funds and state initiatives have invested billions in closing the digital divide, along with the Federal Communications Commission’s $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund approved this spring to expand broadband services for remote and hybrid learning, among other policies.

Despite the dramatic increase in government funding for digital infrastructure, Fernandez said many students and families in both urban and rural communities remain underserved.

One of the biggest obstacles, she said, is knowing where to go for low-cost Internet services and programs providing devices to low-income households.

“It’s another thing making sure people are aware of [the resources available] and making sure we’re actually adopting these products,” Fernandez said.

Noting this, EveryoneOn in 2015 launched a coalition of advocacy groups and other nonprofits in promoting a “multipronged approach” to digital inclusion. The organization works with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on ConnectHomeUSA, a national initiative launched under former President Barack Obama to direct HUD-assisted households to affordable Internet.

So far, the nonprofit says its outreach programs and free online resources have helped connect more than 890,000 people to free and low-cost Internet services, making use of simple web resources such as their "Find Offers" tab, which directs families to services in their area.

Fernandez said the organization's website witnessed a 300-percent increase in traffic from those searching for low-cost digital resources during COVID-19.

EveryoneOn’s outreach efforts have been promoted in districts across the country, from Coachella Valley Unified School District in California to Whittemore-Prescott Area Schools in Michigan, among others still working to close the divide for low-income, rural and largely nonwhite students.

“Once we got to a point where all classes were virtual, then they had to provide the Internet and computers ... We had a lot of people who were disconnected who got that connectivity,” Kurt Peluso, senior director of programs and partnerships, said of the organization’s outreach work during remote learning.

The organization recently partnered with the city of Long Beach to launch a centralized online platform for families there to search for affordable Internet providers in their zip codes. The platform connects local families with service information, computers and hot spots, as well as computer literacy training.

More generally, the organization offers families tips and information on how to navigate the Internet for functions other than digital learning, such as telework and telehealth.

“We cannot talk about digital equity without making sure that people have the skill sets and the confidence to leverage the Internet and devices,” Fernandez said.

She said promoting digital literacy will play a key role in digital inclusion for K-12 families as well as older Americans learning how to make the most out of available technology. That kind of literacy can help people navigate the minefield of malware threats, the most-targeted public sector for which is school districts.

“Privacy and security are part of the digital training EveryoneOn provides. We teach people how to be safe online when they do online banking and other work online," Fernandez said of the organization’s free digital literacy resources.

In addition to its focus on outreach, EveryoneOn leaders advocate legislative efforts to expand and maintain broadband Internet as essential infrastructure in a post-pandemic era.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, 25 and 23 percent of Black and Hispanic households in the U.S., respectively, did not have high-speed Internet at that time. A more recent study by Pew found that about 15 percent of U.S. households struggled to pay for high-speed Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernandez noted that there are several bills in California working through the legislative process to meet these needs, aside from a plethora of digital equity-related bills in other states and Congress.

“As we’re entering this new phase of society, and we’re equipping people with connectivity, devices and training, what we’re providing now is not enough when we think about what the world is going to look like next year,” she said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the size of EveryoneOn's increase in traffic during the pandemic as 30 percent instead of 300.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.