Gov. Ivey allocates $100M for free student Internet access + more resources

Internet access is essential to participate in virtual learning. Photo by Surface

Many students are beginning the school year virtually. But what about those in the greater Birmingham area who don’t have access to the Internet? Help is on the way. 

Gov. Kay Ivey has committed $100M in federal CARES Act funding to increase access to the Internet for K-12 students who will do virtual learning when school starts. 

In response to the pandemic, the Alabama State Department of Education and local school systems have received a total of $435.8M in federal funds to support safe, in-person instruction and remote learning.

woman in black long sleeve shirt using macbook air
Free internet vouchers will be mailed to eligible households in August. Photo by Annie Spratt

The program, which is called the Alabama Broadband Connectivity (ABC) for Students, will provide eligible students with vouchers that will cover the cost of equipment and service costs for high-speed internet from the fall through December 31, 2020. This includes:

  • Broadband
  • Wireless hotspots
  • Satellite
  • Fixed wireless
  • DSL
  • Cellular-on-wheels

The type of internet service provided will depend on the closest infrastructure already in place. 

In a press release, Gov. Kay Ivey stated that despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction. 

“This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Who is eligible for the program?

school, education
School ready. Photo by Zach Vessels via Unsplash

To be eligible for the program, families of students must currently be enrolled in the National School Lunch Program and meet the program’s income requirements. Households who are eligible will receive complete details and a prepaid voucher via U.S. mail in August that will cover all costs.

Students who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program but are not yet registered can still participate by contacting their local schools directly, according to the ABC Students website. They can help you sign up for the lunch program and will also notify the Alabama Department of Education that you are enrolled and will require vouchers.

When you receive your voucher, follow these three steps:

  1. Call the internet service provider of your choice.
  2. Give them your voucher code.
  3. Sign up for service.

More information for families

“More than ever before, the immediate need for broadband infrastructure, devices and connectivity are an integral part of providing Alabama students with a quality education. We still have a lot of work to do, but because of the resources provided by Gov. Ivey, we can head into what we know will be a challenging school year with greater optimism.”

Dr. Eric Mackey, Alabama Superintendent of Education

More Internet + WiFi Resources

Photo by John Schnobrich via Unsplash

Living in a tech-essential world with no access to the Internet is not easy. But on a positive note, it’s good to keep in mind that most businesses provide free WiFi. Some will require you to go inside to access it, while other places allow access via their parking lot. Here’s a quick list of places to try:

  • Fast Food Restaurants: Try places like Jack’s and McDonalds.
  • Cafes: Edgars, Panera Bread, etc.
  • Book Stores: Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, etc.
  • Coffee Shops: Church Street Coffee & Books, Crestwood Coffee Co., The Red Cat, Starbucks, Dunkin’, etc. Check ahead to make sure they are open during the pandemic.
  • Public Libraries: While most libraries are temporarily closed for inside visits, they still provide a free WiFi hotspot for those who need it. For a list of public libraries in in Jefferson County and beyond.

UAB and Birmingham City Schools

UAB and Birmingham City Schools teamed up in April to provide free drive-in WiFi to students in college and in grades K-12. Learn all about it here

  • Location: UAB Express Lot Four, 898-998 5th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35233
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, 6AM-10PM

Spectrum

Spectrum is offering low-income Internet assistance via the Spectrum Internet Assist program. 

To qualify, one or more members of your household must be a recipient of the National School Lunch Program. Spectrum Internet Assist features: 

  •  Free Internet modem
  •  High-speed Internet at 30 Mbps
  •  No data caps
  •  No contracts
  •  Optional in-home WiFi service at $5/mo

Find out how other local companies like Spectrum, AT&T and Spire are helping families and students around Birmingham during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you have other helpful tips for students doing virtual learning? Let us know on social @ bhamnow.