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Digital divide task force asks internet providers to extend free service to California students

California needs at least 447,451 laptops and 340,202 Wi-Fi hotspots to connect every student to internet at home, according to the latest numbers provided by the California Department of Education. The figures, which are higher than an estimate provided last week, were shared at the second hearing for California’s new digital divide task force led by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino.

At the hearing, state lawmakers pressed internet providers on what they are doing to help every student in California access the internet from home in order to participate in distance learning. Companies represented included AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Each of the companies shared plans to reach more students during the pandemic, such as partnerships with school districts, mobile Wi-Fi school busses, and extending timelines for discount programs. But some lawmakers said they still have concerns about families unaware of free and discounted service programs, as well as ongoing challenges for rural communities to gain access to broadband infrastructure.