Mayor London Breed Announces Partnership to Increase Free Internet Access to Support Distance Learning
25 “SuperSpots” will provide thousands of low-income students with internet access to support distance learning during COVID-19-related school closures
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today announced a partnership between the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and national nonprofit organizations EducationSuperHighway and the 1Million Project Foundation to provide connectivity support for thousands of students in San Francisco who lack home internet access, including the deployment of up to 25 WiFi “SuperSpots.”
As part of the new Digital Bridge project, the SuperSpots will be installed in locations to serve students from underserved communities who need to participate in distance learning due to COVID-19 and related school closures. Additionally, the City is working to secure and deploy additional WiFi hotspots, which will complement the 25 new SuperSpots and the existing free, high-speed internet provided to low-income residents through San Francisco’s Fiber to Housing program.
The 25 SuperSpot devices will be located in areas of highest need, including public housing sites, single-room occupancy buildings, community centers, and other neighborhood locations where there is a concentrated population of students lacking internet connectivity. SFUSD, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and the San Francisco Housing Authority will identify locations for the units, and they will be deployed the week of April 13th in time for the beginning of SFUSD Distance Learning.
“Every student in San Francisco needs to be able to stay connected to their teachers and classmates and keep learning as they stay home with their families during this time, regardless of where they live or if their family can afford to pay for high-speed internet,” said Mayor Breed. “We know that access to internet is a barrier to distance learning for many students, which is why we’re launching this new program to provide free internet to places where it’s needed. I want to thank our nonprofit partners for working with us to make sure our students can keep learning remotely.”
“We must support students from every San Francisco neighborhood during this unprecedented and challenging time,” said City Administrator Naomi M. Kelly. “We are working hand-in-hand with nonprofit partners and the private sector to make sure we can quickly expand internet access to ensure that all students are provided with greater opportunities for learning at home. We will continue to look for creative and innovative ways to keep our residents connected as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis.”
Each SuperSpot will provide internet access for 100 users and is powered by the Sprint Network. The SuperSpot equipment, installation, and operating costs are fully covered by philanthropic funding from the 1Million Project Foundation and EducationSuperHighway, and will remain in place for the remainder of the school year. In addition to the SuperSpot devices, the partnership will explore other low-cost options for delivering home internet access to students.
SFUSD estimates that up to 10,000 students in grades 3-12 need access to a device and WiFi to support distance learning at home. 29% of SFUSD students do not have internet access at home. As SFUSD schools remain closed and the District transitions to distance learning, it is important that every student have access to the devices and internet access they need to continue learning.
“SFUSD is committed to finding equitable ways for our students to continue learning while schools are closed. Having access to a dedicated computer and WiFi is critical for students to sustain the connection to their teachers and educational content,” said Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. “We’re deploying our distance learning program with urgency and creativity to meet the needs of our diverse student body and this requires tremendous resources we don’t have. I am so grateful to see the community coming together to support our children and families during this time.”
Over the past two weeks, SFUSD has distributed more than 5,400 devices to students purchased with funds donated by individuals, foundations and corporations, including $2 million from the company Thoma Bravo. SFUSD anticipates another 4,000 students will need devices and will continues to make them available to students in preparation for the April 13th launch of the District’s distance learning plan, which will incorporate teacher-led, interactive distance learning that will rely on technology access at home. As part of this plan, students will continue learning and make academic progress even though they are not physically present in schools. This is accomplished using a variety of digital and print resources, as well as different modes of interaction with teachers and peers.
The Digital Bridge pilot program from EducationSuperHighway and the 1Million Project Foundation will supplement the San Francisco Department of Technology’s Fiber to Housing program by bringing internet access on a temporary basis to sites that the City’s program plans to reach with permanent fiber optic infrastructure over time. The Fiber to Housing program is a collaboration between the Department of Technology, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, and private partners that provides free, high-speed internet to low-income residents by leveraging existing municipal fiber resources, staff expertise, and private sector partnerships and now offers high speed internet service to over 3,100 low-income households.
“With schools across the country scrambling to ensure continuity of learning in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the City of San Francisco, San Francisco Unified School District, EducationSuperHighway, and the 1Million Project are making plans to quickly bridge the digital divide in San Francisco,” said Jonathan Kaplan, Chairperson of EducationSuperHighway. “We are proud to be a part of this project and look forward to sharing a playbook of lessons learned and practical solutions for addressing the comprehensive connectivity needs of students everywhere.”
“The 1Million Project was founded in 2017 to address and help mitigate the homework gap,” said Doug Michelman, President of the 1Million Project Foundation. “We are proud to partner with leaders in San Francisco and EducationSuperHighway to address the homework gap there at a time when it has never been more urgent to find solutions. It is fitting that it is in the San Francisco Bay Area—the world’s center of innovation—that we are finding new ways to deliver connectivity to meet local school districts’ and students’ needs in this time of crisis.”
“The current times require all of us to pivot as fast as we can to make a difference now. The Digital Bridge project will allow thousands of students in San Francisco who have limited ability to access educational content at home a chance to keep up with their peers. Our support for the Digital Bridge project is just the beginning of our own pivot to make a difference now,” said Jim Bildner, CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan, a philanthropic foundation that is providing funding for the Digital Bridge project.
“During these unprecedented times, we’re honored to support EducationSuperHighway’s Digital Bridge project and the City of San Francisco to help close the digital learning gap in our Bay Area backyard and for other communities across the country,” said Sandra Liu Huang, Head of Education, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, another funder of the Digital Bridge project.
EducationSuperHighway was founded in 2012 with the mission of upgrading the Internet access in every public school classroom in America. The organization took on this mission because it believes that digital learning has the potential to provide all students with equal access to educational opportunity and that every school requires high-speed broadband to make that opportunity a reality.
About 1Million Project
The 1Million Project Foundation will help 1 million high school students who do not have reliable Internet access at home reach their full potential by giving them mobile devices and free high-speed Internet access. Today’s learning environment requires 24/7 internet access in order to study, learn, explore and complete school work from home. Students who cannot connect when they leave school are at disadvantage, and their chances of staying on track in school are greatly limited. By working with school districts across America, the 1Million Project Foundation seeks to remove a significant hurdle in these students’ lives by ensuring they have the same access to the internet as any other student so that they too have a fair shot at achieving their full potential. For more information, visit www.1MillionProject.org.