Natomas Unified School District and Comcast to provide free Wi-Fi to low-income families

The internet has become an everyday utility – like electricity and water – yet some Sacramento families are still trying to bridge that digital divide.

To help them, the Natomas Unified School District is giving free home Wi-Fi internet access to 1,000 low-income families to help more of the district’s students access educational materials away from the classroom. The program is in partnership with Comcast, which is providing equipment and service to the homes.

The district kicked off the program Friday night by inviting families to sign up at Jefferson School’s Fall Harvest Festival. Representatives from the district and Comcast created stations to check families in and help them fill out their applications.

Superintendent Chris Evans said that one in five families with a pupil in the district does not have internet in their home.

“As we’re planning to add more technology to our schools, we decided we should set aside some money and give us an opportunity to close the digital divide,” he said.

The digital divide, Evans said, is the gap between students who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not. Extra materials and interactive features are available online, but it can be disadvantaging if students cannot access them.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of children using the Internet from home has grown dramatically between 2010 and 2015, the last year statistics were available. About 71 percent of all children between 3 and 18 years old are going online, according to the NCES’ report “Children’s Access to and Use of the Internet,” which also says the majority of children on the internet, 86 percent, are using online services at home.

However, for children with a family income of less than $10,000, that figure drops to 39 percent. The figures are about the same for households in which parents had not completed high school.

“It’s simple but it’s so important because the digital divide exists year after year,” said district spokesman Jim Sanders. “This is a way to step in and help. Education is changing, and we need to go at bat for the kids.”

Student Adriana Tejeda, 9, said she is excited to use educational programs when she is able to access the internet at home.

“On YouTube and Google there’s a program that teaches me how to read,” she said. Tejeda added that she is working on a project for school about barn owls, and is looking forward to watching videos of the owls in action.