The initiative will cost $3.3 million.

On Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration announced a new initiative "Internet for All" for students of all grade levels in D.C. Public Schools and charter schools. Students from 25,000 low-income families will be able to access the service this academic year. The program is being launched one week after the public schools started virtual learning.

With the ongoing pandemic, schools have reopened with virtual classes. Many families are finding it challenging to afford complete virtual assistance for their kids' education. To bridge the digital divide, the district has initiated the $3.3 million budgeted program to provide free broadband internet service to the eligible families. The funding is organized by the Office of the State Superintendant of Education (OSSE). The initiative has collaborated with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) and will work with two private internet providers, Comcast and RCN.

“During this virtual school term, we know how critical it is for all of our students to have internet access to successfully learn at home and stay connected to their teachers outside of the classroom. This investment continues our commitment not only to supporting families during virtual school term, but also to building a more digitally inclusive D.C. in the long-term,” Bowser said in a statement.

Watch the full briefing here :

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer will be reaching out to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)- and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF)-eligible families through email, phone, or text messages to check if they need the service. The OCTO and the OSSE will provide internet through Comcast’s Internet Essentials and RCN’s Internet First programs. Any eligible family who does not get contacted can get in touch with their children's schools directly.

“The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for bridging the digital divide in Washington, D.C. As schools begin classes online, students without regular access to the internet are at a severe disadvantage. The Bowser Administration is committed to work with our partners and our community to break this cycle and create a fair shot for everyone in DC.” said Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker in Tuesday's press release.

The district has already provided more than 23,000 devices and 4,000 WiFi hotspots to students during the spring virtual learning sessions, according to D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. Still, a report conducted showed that 60 percent of the students need devices, and 27 percent need internet access to prepare for virtual fall classes.

According to a survey, 45 percent of D.C. families with a yearly income below $25,000 and 27 percent of families with income between $25,000–$50,000 do not have high-speed internet. That accounts for almost 21,000 children without high-speed home internet. 

“This is the most cost-effective solution in the short term to making sure that these families have Internet access,” said Parker. “During the most unprecedented virtual school year, this is the fastest and most effective way to do it.”

Parker also reassured the public that the families would not be charged in any way for the assistance. The government will pay the bills, and the families also won't be charged if they fail to return the company-owned routers later.

This initiative also sets the stepping stones for the D.C. technology department’s Tech Together initiative, which has goals of connecting D.C. residents with the internet, increasing accessibility of internet-enabled devices, and IT support, raising overall technology awareness among the public, private, and nonprofit organizations.