During a virtual conference with constituents and media earlier this month, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said it’s become all too common to hear of students sitting “in a Burger King parking lot at 10 p.m. to finish their homework because they do not have broadband at home.”
Liccardo’s comments came after the California city closed a $3.5 million deal with AT&T to provide wireless hotspots to tens of thousands of students who are in need of online connectivity as they prepare to learn from home amid the coronavirus pandemic. “We cannot continue to move forward with our community where too many of our children are unable to learn online,” he added.
The situation in San Jose, however, is hardly unique.
Nationwide, nearly 55 million students are preparing to return to school this fall and the ongoing pandemic means many of them will be learning from home this year. Of those, an estimated 14 million are lacking the basic tools, like internet access and laptops, needed to take part in distance learning. The situation, or so-called digital divide, has created a lucrative opportunity for mobile carriers. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are competing against each other by signing entire school districts and cities to massive deals that mostly include wireless hotspots. And they're doing so at a ridiculous pace.
Verizon, for instance, debuted its school-focused business arm, Verizon Innovative Learning, in 2012. The company had deals with 153 schools as of 2019. Come this fall, however, the nation’s largest wireless carrier will have nearly doubled that figure by adding an additional 111 schools to its roster of clients. Demand has been so great that the company told Ad Age it’s now expanding to high schools for the first time.