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Philadelphia launched PHLConnectED on Aug. 6 to connect families to the Internet ahead of the virtual school restart next week. Photo: Getty Images.
Philadelphia launched PHLConnectED on Aug. 6 to connect families to the Internet ahead of the virtual school restart next week. Photo: Getty Images.

Fighting to bridge Philly’s COVID-19 digital divide

The city has partnered for the 211 hotline with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

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In less than one week, children across Philadelphia will virtually tune in to their first day of class for the 2020-2021 school year.

But as many as 35,000 families across the city still don’t have internet access so their kids can go to class.

On Aug. 6, Philadelphia launched PHLConnectED, an massive collaboration between the city and some of its biggest private partners to connect those families to the internet ahead of the school year and also offer them digital skills training and tech support.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced virtual school on the city, the initiative is part of a larger goal to support internet development and digital literacy skills for all Philadelphia residents.

As extra support ahead of the school year, the city has also partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to create a hotline for families to call with all the information they need about the PHLConnectED program.

As for the information provided about the program, it will guide eligible families on how to get connected to the internet. 

The 211 hotline will also be operating 24/7 and be offered in 150 different languages. 

In addition to being a one-stop shop for everything PHLConnectED, the hotline will also offer referrals to other resources such as general tech support to further drive digital literacy.

To help those one the other end of the phone better understand the needs of the community they will be working with, a short survey of families is being conducted to gather information.

Families with internet access solely through mobile phones are encouraged to dial 211 and press “1” to speak to a resource navigator. 

“We’re thrilled to launch the PHLConnectED hotline and get our students ready for digital learning,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “We know that many families need internet access, so we’re eager to get started connecting them as quickly as possible. PHLConnectED is a critical step in bridging the digital divide in Philadelphia.”

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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