Hotspot discount programs are ending. What other options are there?

Even though many discount programs for Wi-Fi hotspots are coming to an end, schools can still provide low-income families with affordable plans
By: | May 5, 2020
Family mobile hotspot discount programs are ending, so K-12 leaders need to advocate for E-rate program supports and to provide low-income families with other plans to maintain student internet Justin Paget

Many family mobile hotspot discount programs that districts provided to low-income families are reaching their limit, and school leaders are concerned what monthly rates these families will now have to pay to maintain student internet access during school closures.

“Luckily, there were discount programs prior to the pandemic that companies are dedicated to continue providing for $10 per month post-COVID-19,” says Christine Fox, who spoke on the topic of broadband leadership at FETC 2020.

While plans are varied, some programs just require families to fill out an application that proves their children are on a free or reduced lunch plan. However, school leaders need to communicate to parents that hardware for many of these family mobile hotspot programs are backordered.

“Every district should look at how many families need support, what their local providers are and what levels of internet access they have,” says Fox, who is deputy executive director at State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), a not-for-profit membership association of state education agency leaders. “There isn’t a one size fits all.”

E-Rate program supports

As school closures persist, district leaders need to look at the monetary support provided by the CARES act to identify their school system’s needs and budget shortfalls and use E-rate funds to support on-campus access as needed.

Related: 7 questions schools will have to answer to reopen in fall 2020

Related: WiFi buses narrow the digital divide

Related: Digital divide drives new broadband expansion efforts

“Honestly, district leaders need to assume that there might be rolling closures and that this wasn’t just a one-off event,” says Fox.

Additionally, SETDA recommends that superintendents advocate for a recent bill that was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide E-rate program support for Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices during emergency periods relating to COVID-19.

Fox adds,  “Again, schools need to plan with the long term in mind even with some of the short-term funding.”

For more coronavirus coverage, click here.