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'Public Education Should Be Completely Free': Local Leaders Push For Free Internet As Families Prepare For More Distance Learning

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) --  For many, back to school means back to the kitchen table. As many districts like St Paul and Minneapolis go digital, internet access is more critical than ever.

For some parents, it's a phase they'd like to forget. But they'll soon have to remember how to make virtual learning work.

"They go to room and watch TV because internet is load, load, load," St. Paul Mom Lorena Cervantes explained.

Like many, Cervantes' been trying to coordinate three different kids' classes and a virtual speech therapy session with mixed results, "We need a good internet because my kids lost the connection with teachers."

But her husband is the only one working, and money is a challenge, she says her dream for herself and others is free internet. And a group of advocates gathered outside Comcast corporate in St. Paul is asking just for that -- free high-speed internet.

"Families are attending free public education and that free public education should be completely free," Khulia Pringle, with Minnesota Parent Union said.

The parents praise Comcast for erasing the debt of families who can't pay their internet bill. They say it's now up to districts and the state to bridge the digital divide.

Comcast is asking for the same, they are offering a $10 dollar monthly program but are asking for more state and district support so they can make it free.

"We are talking about low wealth families that don't have the opportunities and past time for districts to step up," Rashad Turner said.

He says other districts like Burnsville and Spring Lake Park have already stepped up, he is expecting others to follow suit because it's almost time for the virtual bell to ring.

"We have worst in the county achievement gap and we think families don't have what they need this fall there's a huge sinkhole that's waiting for our students," Turner said.

Comcast sent WCCO this statement:

"Committed to bridging the digital divide in the Twin Cities and nationwide for nearly a decade, Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 172,000 low-income Minnesotans to the internet. To confront the COVID-19 epidemic, we are proactively offering Internet Essentials free for 60 days to new customers, waiving all back due debt, and have opened thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots in outdoor and small business locations across the Twin Cities. We're proud to offer the nation's largest broadband program for low-income families; however, solving a problem as vast and complex as the digital divide requires collaboration across the Twin Cities – with the school district, elected officials, nonprofit community partners, and other private-sector companies – so everyone is part of the solution."

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