Chicago Launches Initiative to Bridge Digital Divide, Provides Free High-Speed Internet Access to Over 100,000 CPS Students

‘Chicago Connected,’ will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students in their households
‘Chicago Connected,’ will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students in their households

Chicago Launches Initiative to Bridge Digital Divide, Provides Free High-Speed Internet Access to Over 100,000 CPS Students

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot recently announced the launch of ‘Chicago Connected,’ which will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students in their households.

This first-of-its-kind program will be one of the largest and longest-term efforts in the nation to provide free, high-speed internet over the course of four years to dramatically increase internet accessibility for students and help build a permanent public support system for families in Chicago.

“Reliable, high-speed internet is one of the most powerful equalizers when it comes to accessing information,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “It allows families to access digital remote learning and stay connected to family near and far, especially during COVID-19. It allows families to build career skills, apply for jobs, register to vote and stay up-to-date on current events. This program is a critical component of our STEP agenda and the efforts to end poverty and a part of our mission to drive improved academic outcomes at CPS.”

The city worked with CPS and philanthropist Ken Griffin to initiate a first-of-its-kind, scalable solution to address the digital equity gap. ‘Chicago Connected’ sustainably tackles the persistent access issue through a public-private investment in broadband, with philanthropic partners bridging the program’s initial costs. ‘Chicago Connected’ is estimated to cost approximately $50 million over the next four years, prioritizing families in need on the city’s South and West Sides.

“Internet connectivity is a lifeline to education and opportunity – extending learning beyond the classroom and opening pathways for development and wellbeing,” said Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel. “With ongoing access, every student and their family – regardless of economic circumstance – will be better positioned to pursue a brighter future. I hope ‘Chicago Connected’ will inspire other communities across the country to come together to eliminate the digital divide.”

The first two years of ‘Chicago Connected’ will be majority funded by philanthropic partners, including $7.5 million from Ken Griffin, $5 million from Crown Family Philanthropies, $2.5 million from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund (through The Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago), $2 million from Illinois Tool Works, $1.5 million from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, $500,000 from The JPB Foundation and $250,000 from the Joyce Foundation. An additional joint commitment of $750,000 from President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust to the Children First Fund (CFF), the independent partnership and philanthropy arm for Chicago Public Schools, will support efforts by community-based organizations (CBOs) on the South Side.

“Inequitable access to the Internet is a nationwide issue and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that internet service can no longer be viewed as a luxury,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “To build on our students’ academic progress, we are launching an unprecedented effort to provide stable, high-speed internet access to 100,000 CPS students over the next four years. This ambitious and critical undertaking would not be possible without the generous support of the philanthropic community.”

These generous commitments, along with $5 million of CARES Act funding from the city of Chicago, will fund years one and two of the program. CPS will fund the program in years three and four of the initiative.

For more information, please visit cps.edu/chicagoconnected.

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