March 14, 2021

Millions of students got free home internet for remote learning. How long will it last?

After COVID-19 forced the nation’s schools online, thousands of districts scrambled to partner with internet service providers to cover the cost of broadband for low-income students. The result was a patchwork of temporary agreements that connected millions of families, often via innovative public-private partnerships.

Now, though, many of those deals face looming expiration dates—with no clear answers about whether long-term funding will be available.

There’s mutual interest in solidifying many of the “sponsored service” agreements currently in place. Typically, such deals involve an internet service provider (ISP) offering discounted wireline internet connections or mobile hotspots to low-income families, with the local school district picking up the tab.

The problem, however, is money.

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