Massachusetts Program Hooks Students Up to Internet

Salem, Mass., students who aren't able to get online at home can get hooked up to high-speed Internet for free for six months thanks to a new partnership between the school district, Comcast and a local nonprofit.

by Dustin Luca, The Salem News / April 29, 2020
Slow or unreliable internet access is a reality for millions of Americans. ben dalton/Flickr, CC BY-SA

(TNS) — Scores of Salem, Mass., students who aren't able to get online at home can get hooked up to high-speed internet for free for the next six months thanks to a new partnership between the school district, Comcast and a local nonprofit.

City officials announced a program Monday afternoon that will bring six months of free internet connectivity to households in need. The program specifically targets homes where 213 Salem Public Schools students live but are unable to get online to keep up with the district's remote learning efforts.

The offering takes advantage of Internet Essentials, a Comcast program that provides high-speed internet at a discounted rate for low-income households and opens up with an introductory two free months. After that, the service is $9.95 a month, offering up to 25 megabits-per-second download speeds to those who qualify.

On top of that, Salem Children's Charity — a decades-old nonprofit in Salem that helps Salem schoolchildren in need — has pumped $10,000 into the effort to cover the cost of the first four months of paid service to those households, according to the announcement.

"Salem Children's Charity exists to meet the needs of Salem schoolchildren," said Brendan Walsh, the organization's treasurer and a former School Committee member. "It's usually individual families, where we might provide food cards to Market Basket or something, cards to buy clothes at TJ Maxx, stuff at Walmart."

But right now, homes are getting hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment has hit record highs, but the bills are still mounting up for many people. This has all created what Walsh described as "a surreal universe."

"We have no schools," he said, "but we still have kids with needs."

Recent internal conversations have focused on money the organization has stored up over the years through fundraisers and donations. At some point, the organization built up enough cash for "a rainy-day situation, in case for instance we had a major fire with six or eight families in need," he explained.

"Guess what? It's pouring," Walsh said. "The rainy day arrived, and there are a lot of kids who need a lot of things — so we're just trying to do what we can."

Signing up

Bilingual staff members will begin reaching out to families who the district already knows don't have this resource. Qualifying families will be provided a code to use when applying, and district staff will assist families with the application process. The deadline to sign up is program is May 13.

If your family is in need of internet access or has questions about eligibility, call 978-219-6689 and a Salem Public Schools staff member can assist you.

©2020 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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