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Chicago Offers a Blueprint for Expanding Urban Internet Access

Remote schooling during the pandemic spotlighted the urban digital divide — and spurred the largest school broadband program in the US.

Chicago Connected has given free high-speed broadband internet to more than 40,000 low-income households since the pandemic started. 

Chicago Connected has given free high-speed broadband internet to more than 40,000 low-income households since the pandemic started. 

Photographer: FG Trade/E+

When schools closed in March 2020 and went online at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, some 17 million kids in the US lacked internet access at home. And even many kids who did have some access didn’t have a stable enough connection to get their work done. 

But the pandemic brought at least temporary relief in some cities, where gaps in internet access can be as big as in rural areas due to cost and other barriers. In Chicago, a $50 million four-year program to give free internet to low-income students is now the largest K-12 internet connectivity program in the country.