Internet provider NextLight is giving free internet to low-income households with children

Families that are struggling with internet access for students during online learning should check out the Sharing the NextLight program

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Izzy Erickson

When Wifi first became mainstream, it was called a transformation and phenomenon.

After launching last year, Longmont’s “Sharing the NextLight” program is still being offered to low-income Longmont parents whose children attend St. Vrain Valley Schools and qualify for free or reduced lunch.

According to John Fryar, a Longmont Times-Call reporter, NextLight is Longmont’s municipal high-speed fiber optic broadband internet service, which offers income-eligible families of St. Vrain Valley School District free home connections.

Fryar says that “Sharing the NextLight” is a partnership between NextLight, the city government’s Children Youth and Families Division, and the Longmont Community Foundation.

Fryar said in a recent article that “the free connections offer is now available for the Longmont homes of grandparents and designated caregivers of such students”.

The announcement about the “Sharing the NextLight” program expanding was made Thursday, August 20, 2020, right in time for students going back to school with online and distance learning.

In the same article, Valerie Dodd, NextLight executive director, is quoted as saying that the expansion is to “ensure that no one gets stranded on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’ and that learning can continue even when in-person classes do not”.

Rachael Ayers, Mead High School Principal, suggests that Mead students struggling with internet access reach out to the school. Mrs. Ayers said, “We can’t fix what we don’t know, and so if they are struggling, then a quick phone call to the school will help us diagnose what the issue is.”

Mrs. Ayers also said that there are resources included in the 2020-2021 Reopening Plan found at the top of the Mead High School website. Mrs. Ayers said, “We work a lot with Comcast. Comcast will give discounted rates to families for certain lengths of time.”

Another option that Mead High School has been offering is hotspots for individual families. Mrs. Ayers said “We have delivered several hotspots to families [that don’t live in Mead]… because internet access is not the same in all those spaces.” Mrs. Ayers gave an estimate of 12 hotspots having been delivered to Mead families.

“There is a lot to learn from being online that we can carry forward when we actually get back to what we call normal, but our normal is probably going to change a little bit as we navigate the situation,” Mrs. Ayers said. “[St. Vrain] has faced a lot of criticism for being… technology forward… one of the things that prepared us very uniquely for what other districts or other smaller school systems did not anticipate was being technology connected… that access allows us as a system to give kids an equitable education.”

Rochat said that the Longmont City Council provided about $24,500 to the Longmont Community Foundation to support the program, and Eric Hozempa, the Community Foundation Executive Director, said that private donors have contributed $47,189 towards the program.

If families are interested in joining the “Sharing the NextLight” program, they can receive a form for free connections by calling Children, Youth, and Families at (303) 651-8580 or going online to Longmontcolorado.gov/SharingTheNextLight.