Amid online-only school schedule, Reading petition calls for free WiFi

“We can do better and we need to do better for our students.”

  • Alanna Elder

(Reading) — Students in the Reading School District are slated to take classes fully online during the first quarter of the school year. The decision has heightened the question of  how to ensure they have access to internet.

A petition with at least 900 signatures calls on Reading City Council to push Comcast to provide free internet access to families in the district. It argues, the company’s cheaper plan is still not an option for many.

Petitioners Christopher Ellis and Becky Ellis, a member of Reading School Board, submitted comments to council members, who discussed the issue briefly at its Monday meeting.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said the city should “revisit” its agreement with Comcast.

“This is a crisis situation for our children,” she said. “We give them the right to establish their cable network throughout the city through this agreement, but we need to be able to look at whether there’s a way to amend it to be able to [get people access] to internet service.”

Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik said the city could also do more to increase free WiFi hotspots around the city.

“The Reading Public Library, who drives through, I know specifically in District 1 – even though we don’t have a library, we have a van that drives through with the access,” she said. “So, we do have access points. We can do better and we need to do better for our students.”

The school district set up outdoor WiFi at 14 of its buildings, the Reading Eagle reported.

The petition cited data from 2018 suggesting that 50 percent of the city’s residents lack access to broadband, cable, or DSL, and about 33 percent have no access through mobile data plans. These numbers were higher than for the three other cities listed in the report as having low connectivity, including Philadelphia, Erie, and Allentown.

Philadelphia leaders announced last week the city plans to provide free access to 35,000 families, following the city school district’s decision to begin classes online only and demonstrations outside Comcast’s headquarters.

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