Online For All: Coalition Mobilizes for Digital Equity during Back-to-School Season

By: Ji Soo Song, Digital Equity Advisor, Office of Educational Technology and Elena Saltzman, Director of Campaigns, Civic Nation

Last month, as part of Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar, Secretary Cardona held a roundtable discussion in Kansas City, KS about broadband connectivity with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. During this event with local superintendents and community-based organizations, Secretary Cardona emphasized it’s the internet’s critical role in expanding educational opportunities, supporting access to services, and creating pathways for full participation in the economy.

This is why, under the leadership of the White House, we partnered with Civic Nation to launch the Online For All Campaign, bringing together a diverse coalition of supporting organizations to engage in local community action and large-scale mobilization efforts to ensure every household can get online. Online For All kicked off with a Week of Action in June 2023, where 371 supporting organizations from 49 states volunteered to help students and families enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal benefit that provides a discount toward internet service for eligible households.

The Week of Action, which also engaged federal leaders in events across the country, successfully informed more than 1 million people about the ACP. As of September 2023, more than 21 million households have enrolled out of 48 million eligible.

Building on this momentum, Online For All launched the Back to School Connectivity Challenge in August, calling on various sectors to embed ACP into planned back-to-school activities, since this season can be an important moment to share information with students and families. The challenge mobilized notable efforts from local leaders, national organizations, and federal agencies to promote the ACP:

  • Elmira City School District (NY) distributed information to families during open houses and orientation events.
  • Seymour Public Schools (CT) shared information through a social media campaign.
  • Hazel Park School District (MI) posted information on their website and shared flyers in all school offices.
  • Portland Community College set up tables at campus events during the start of the fall term.
  • The City of Montgomery’s (AL) representatives attended back to school bashes and reached over 4,000 people. They also communicated with local colleges to encourage financial aid departments to send information to Pell recipients, who qualify for the ACP.
  • Philadelphia’s (PA) digital navigators phone banked to thousands of families and tabled at back-to-school events. The School District of Philadelphia also ran a media campaign, and the Superintendent and Chief Information Officer participated in a back-to-school radio interview.
  • The United Way of Greater Cincinnati shared information with community members at several backpack distribution and end-of-summer events.
  • The Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments coordinated ACP outreach at six local back-to-school fairs. They also reached over a thousand students at Northwest Missouri State University.
  • Verizon and the National Urban League worked with the Houston Area Urban League and the City of Houston to conduct outreach and enrollment activities, including providing free backpacks with school supplies and ACP flyers to students and families.
  • The American Federation of Teachers developed a dedicated ACP information page.
  • The National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals shared ACP information with principals through newsletters, blog posts, and a social media campaign.
  • Common Sense Media shared information about ACP with over 200,000 educators and administrators through a newsletter and participated in back-to-school events in Georgia and Arizona. ·
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a back-to-school blog featuring Online For All.

Going forward, Online For All will continue to expand and equip the coalition of supporting organizations with monthly calls and additional resources. In addition, Online For All will develop a public story bank of digital equity success stories. Interested leaders and organizations can join the Campaign here and stay up to date on the latest information.