DENVER (AP) — Colorado will spend $2 million in federal pandemic relief funding to provide internet access to students who lack service as part of an overall effort to close the digital divide in both rural and urban parts of the state as the pandemic has forced many to rely on online learning.
State education commissioner Kathy Anthes announced the plan on Wednesday, joined by Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser. School districts will be able to apply for grants to pay for hotspots to provide internet access to households as well as things like mobile hotspot trucks that may work better in rural areas, she said.
“Broadband access is now an essential school supply. It's a non negotiable,” she said at the Fort Logan Northgate School in the Sheridan School District 2 in Denver.
Weiser also announced that T-Mobile would provide up to 34,000 low-income student households in Colorado with a free WiFi hotspot and 100GB of free data for a year as well as discounted devices like tablets and computers. It’s part of a national effort the wireless company announced in November and the commitment to help those households fulfills part of a settlement agreement Weiser’s office reached with it last fall regarding its $26.5 billion purchase of Sprint.
Weiser also announced he has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday asking that it use funding for improving school internet access to pay for extending schools' broadband networks to students' homes and for WiFi hotspots or other online access for students.
More than 65,000 students in Colorado lack internet access, according to the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative.