Mayor announces expansion of 'Chicago Connected,' providing free broadband internet to more public school students

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The City of Chicago is expanding it’s program to provide free broadband internet service to tens of thousands of public schools students.

For about a year, the Chicago Connected program has provided free broadband service to 64,000 students in 42,000 different households. City officials said that cut the digital divide by nearly two-thirds.

“The statistics for ‘Chicago Connected’ are powerful, but these are more than just numbers. Each datapoint represents a real student or a real family. As someone who has spent a large portion of his career advocating for children and families in Chicago, I understand the profound impact broadband access can have,” said 24th Ward Alderman Michael Scott, Chairman of the Committee on Education and Child Development.

“In today’s world, connectivity is everything. In providing connectivity to tens of thousands of families across the city, ‘Chicago Connected’ has provided opportunity to those who need it the most,” added 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy. “Nowhere has this impact been felt more than in our communities of color. Mayor Lightfoot pledged an inclusivity- and equity-focused agenda from the start of her administration, and she’s lived up to that promise at every turn. I am proud of the broadband program she’s created and fully support these exciting, ambitious developments.”

Now, the Mayor’s Office has announced that it’s extending the free internet service for some of those students. Graduating high school seniors can keep their free broadband from the end of school through Oct. 31. But for seniors, who go on to attend the City Colleges of Chicago, the city promises free internet service for three years, or until they get their college degree, whichever comes first.

“The pandemic has reinforced the notion once and for all that internet access isn't a luxury, but a necessity," said Mayor Lightfoot. “‘Chicago Connected’ is a groundbreaking program that has and will continue to help close the digital divide, which further restricts access to high-quality education, healthcare, social services, jobs, and more. I am thrilled to continue this work by expanding ‘Chicago Connected’ to our community college students and help to open more doors of opportunity up for our residents.”

When Mayor Lightfoot announced ‘Chicago Connected’ in June 2020, she pledged progress toward a broader digital equity strategy, including a commitment to digital inclusion, literacy, and learning. Mayor Lightfoot fulfilled that promise on Tuesday with the launch of the ‘Chicago Connected’ digital learning platform in a joint partnership with the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition and Northstar Digital Literacy.

Enrollment in ‘Chicago Connected’ will now include free access to online portals with classroom curricula, training materials, and thousands of assessments,  all available in self-guided and in-person formats, to build and test computer skills. In addition to these partnerships, a compilation of digital learning resources will be made available on the ‘Chicago Connected’ website, entirely free of charge. These resources can be found at cps.edu/digitallearning.

The Chicago Connected program is largely funded by businessman Ken Griffin.

“Over the past year, we have taken great strides in empowering Chicago’s students to pursue their dreams and realize their fullest potential. ‘Chicago Connected’ has shown communities across the United States that when we bridge the digital divide, we offer young people a critical pathway to success," Griffin said in a statement.