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Play 3 – Identify needs and recruit partners to fill specific gaps

Expanding home internet access for students requires solutions that address the digital divide for the broader community. Bringing new partners from other sectors (e.g., healthcare, economic development, public safety, local business) to the table can help state and local education leaders connect students and families in a holistic way that benefits the entire community and reaches beyond the school campus. Collaborative, cross-sector partnerships have the potential to increase capacity to implement solutions, introduce new expertise and skills, build broad project support, and even open new avenues for funding or leadership support.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are some possible connectivity solutions we might consider implementing?

Solution Implementation Timeline Description
Mobile Hotspot Immediate deployment
(1-4 weeks)
A small, portable device that connect to the internet via a cellular service and emit a Wi-Fi signal. Personal devices can then be connected to these Wi-Fi signals to access the Internet. Mobile hotspots devices and data plans may be purchased by schools or districts and sent home with students.
School or Community Wi-Fi Hotspots (e.g., drive-up, parking lot hotspots) Immediate deployment
(1-4 weeks)
Wireless access points set up at schools or other community locations and provide free service.
School or Community Bus Wi-Fi Immediate deployment
1-4 weeks)
A Wi-Fi equipped school or community bus that is parked in a public location (e.g., an under-connected neighborhood) and provides free internet access to students within a certain radius of the bus.
Off-campus Wireless Network Near future deployment 
(5 weeks – 6 months)
A school-owned Wi-Fi network that provides free, basic wireless internet access to the homes of students or other community sites often in neighborhoods with the greatest need.
School, District, or State-Sponsored Internet Service Near future deployment 
(5 weeks – 6 months)
Schools, districts, or states temporarily cover the monthly cost of a low-cost internet service plan for students who lack internet service.
Broadband Infrastructure Deployment    Long-term deployment (years) Leveraging federal, state, and local funds to develop broadband networks or infrastructure (e.g., fiber) through which broadband services can be delivered. 

2.  Who are potential partners and what type of support might they provide?1

Partner Categories Type of Support
Institutional Partners 
Colleges and Universities
  • Serve as key anchor tenants on broadband networks
  • Provide low-cost or free equipment and space
  • Offer expertise to teach digital literacy classes
  • Provide outreach and broadband adoption training for rural broadband projects (e.g., university extension offices which have traditionally provided education and technology to rural communities)
  • Operate school and inter-school networks among localities
  • Provide funding
Libraries (state/local) 
  • Provide broadband services, community outreach, and digital literacy expertise
  • Provide access to equipment and classrooms
  • Host health, education, and workforce development programs
Healthcare (hospitals/clinics) 
  • Serve as key anchor tenants on broadband networks
  • Sponsor telemedicine projects that include rural areas
  • Provide funding
Private Partners 
Internet service providers (ISPs) 
  • Provide infrastructure expertise and facilities
  • Provide capacity, equipment, networks, collocation facilities, and interconnection
  • Emphasize economic development and technology innovation
  • Provide market and technology expertise and innovation
Foundations, banks
  • Fund and support broadband and/or device adoption and deployment
  • Promote equitable access
Local, State, and Federal Government
  • Participate in project planning and implementation
  • Scale successful projects
  • Participate in applications for funding
  • Provide funding and loans
Economic Development Agency
  • Share information about how to increase economic growth
  • Award grant funds to projects
Community Partners 
Community centers (e.g., senior centers), churches, community-based organizations (e.g., YMCA)
  • Communicate broadband benefits to non-adopters/potential subscribers
  • Provide facilities and staff to support broadband adoption and digital literacy training
Chamber of Commerce
  • Host events with local businesses
  • Share information with local businesses
  • Fund and support broadband and/or device adoption and deployment

3. When is a formal partnership agreement appropriate? When is an informal partnership agreement appropriate?2

Formal partnership agreements may be helpful when:

  • Funds change hands in exchange for deliverables
  • Parties commit to provide assets, facilities, and/or equipment
  • Staffing will be provided
  • Services or capacity will be provided
  • Existing partnerships or contracts with third parties will be leveraged

Informal partnerships are often implemented without a traditional contracting process and may occur when:

  • The broadband project can further the goals of partner organizations, such as workforce development and education
  • Both parties can mutually aid each other (e.g., announcements in each other’s newsletter)
  • The informal partner’s mission is compatible with the broadband project (e.g., community foundation)

4. What are the key components of a formal partnership agreement?

Formal partnership agreements may include the following items:

  • The names of the parties involved
  • Effective date, termination date
  • Legal authority that governs the agreement
  • Partnership expectations, roles, and responsibilities
  • Expected deliverables, project timelines, and milestones
  • Renumeration (e.g., cost-sharing, rates, charges)
  • How intellectual property (IP) will be shared and managed
  • Procedures for managing changes to the agreement or dispute resolution
  • How any data sharing between the parties complies with applicable privacy laws, purpose of data sharing, and data security procedures

5. What are common practices for successful partnerships?

  • Clearly outline roles and responsibilities
  • Communicate regularly
  • Designate a lead representative to participate regularly in group calls or meetings for each partner
  • Monitor scheduled milestones and deliverables on a regular basis
  • Listen and build trust; relationships grow as partners develop trust

6. How can a logic model support the implementation plan?

A logic model is a visual representation of the assumptions and theory of action that underlie the structure of a project or program. Developing a logic model at the beginning of program planning provides a framework for charting the links between your resources, activities, and outputs and the project’s intended outcomes. A logic model can help communicate to stakeholders the goals of the project, how the goals will be reached, and how progress towards the goals will be tracked. The Department’s Pacific Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) has developed an Education Logic Model Application that guides users through the process of developing a logic model.

Play in Practice

Pennsylvania universities partner with nonprofits and school districts to provide free internet access to in-need communities

For Pennsylvania schools, the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote learning highlighted the digital inequities in the education system. To alleviate the digital divide in Western Pennsylvania, eight universities, research groups, nonprofit organizations, and school districts collaborated to provide free, high-speed internet access to families of school-age children with low-incomes. Each partner organization brought unique resources and expertise to the project including:

  • Meta Mesh Wireless Communities (MMWC): MMWC is a nonprofit, networking solutions consolidator responsible for network design, equipment installation, and maintenance for the project. 
  • Carnegie Mellon University (CMU): A team from CMU’s School of Computer Science and the Simon Initiative have coordinated connections to CMU and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), provided critical start-up funding for the project, and liaised with key stakeholders and community groups. They offer ongoing project design, implementation, and fundraising support. 
  • University of Pittsburgh (Pitt): Pitt is contributing facility access and funding to enable the use of the Pitt Cathedral of Learning as the “Super Node/hub.” With its extensive community engagement efforts, including centers in Homewood and the Hill District, Pitt is also supporting stakeholder and community involvement in additional neighborhoods following the pilot. 
  • The Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER): KINBER is Pennsylvania’s statewide research, education, and community network organization and network provider to both CMU and Pitt and provides a “gateway” to the internet through KINBER’s PennREN Fiber to be broadcasted from the Cathedral of Learning via MMWC. 
  • Participating School Districts and Community Groups: The New Kensington-Arnold and Cornell (Coraopolis) school districts, as well as the Homewood Children’s Village, are collaborators. Penn State New Kensington contributes to the project’s progress in the New Kensington area. These local community partners bring vital expertise, leading the effort to build community buy-in, leveraging social capital to facilitate the creation of wireless internet service provider (WISP) infrastructure, and identifying households in need of internet connectivity. They also advise CMU, Pitt, and Meta Mesh partners on community need and intentional partnership practices.  

The result of this collaborative partnership is a pilot program that connects approximately 450 households with school-age children to internet access using high-powered radios on top of the Cathedral of Learning that transmit Wi-Fi to these city households. Once the first phase of this project ends, the partners hope to expand to other parts of Western Pennsylvania.



Oregon holds Connect Oregon Students for Learning summit to draft plan for digital access

The Connect Oregon Students for Learning Coalition was formed after the temporary closure of Oregon schools following the spread of COVID-19. The Coalition, which included the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Business Council, Oregon Community Foundation and Coalition Oregon School Administrators, was brought together to expand the state’s capacity to support virtual instruction.

In May 2020, the Coalition held the Connect Oregon Students for Learning Summit that brought together partners from the education sector, business community, philanthropy, community-based organizations to develop a plan for providing every Oregon student with stable and reliable home internet access. Prior to the summit, the Oregon Department of Education conducted two surveys that identified four areas of need – broadband infrastructure, internet service access, device access, and digital literacy. This informed the design of the summit and helped focus discussions on how summit participants could help address each of these needs. The summit was organized over the course of 3 weeks by a leadership team, which focused on bringing a wide range of stakeholders to the table.  

Summit attendees identified the following next steps:

  • Re-engineering and reframing the student learning experience at present and for the future
  • Fostering strong partnerships and voices across Oregon
  • Tackling systemic and sustainable opportunities to meet the urgent needs of Oregon residents

Summit participants also aligned around a series of shared beliefs including the importance of access to reliable, high-speed internet; the right to access appropriate technology, tools, and resources by students to foster engaging learning experiences; the right to access appropriate technology, tools, and resources by instructors to foster engaging learning experiences; and the underscoring of equity realized by resource allocation and opportunities.

The Connecting Oregon Schools Summit recommendations were presented to the Governor resulting in $28 million to support schools in acquiring:

  • Access and Connectivity: Adequate infrastructure and/or services that enable internet access and connectivity for student learning;
  • Student and Teacher Devices: Appropriate and user-friendly devices for students and teachers to navigate through distance learning curriculums and programs of study;
  • Digital Content and Curriculum: High quality, adaptable, culturally responsive, and effective digital learning curriculum and content that fosters student learning and engagement;
  • Learning Management Systems: Online technology that allow educators to successfully deliver their teaching content and lessons; and,
  • Professional Learning for Educators: Various supports and training that ensure effective use of all digital learning tools.

Checklist & Key Questions

  • Develop a logic model or theory of change that outlines the resources, activities, outputs, and intended outcomes of your selected approach(es) (e.g., mobile hotspot or off-campus wireless network deployment, Wi-Fi on buses) for connecting students at home in order to identify gaps in resources or capacity.
    • What are the resources or inputs needed to implement the selected approach(es) and achieve the desired outcomes? Resources may include both material items (such as technology infrastructure, facilities, and funding) and nonmaterial items (such as time, community support, and specialized knowledge or skills).
    • What activities or steps are needed to implement the approach(es) and achieve the intended outcomes?
    • How do you include Tribal consultation and community engagement in your process?
    • What resources and activities can you support? What gaps exist?
  • Identify and recruit potential partner organizations to fill identified resource gaps
    • Are there potential partner organizations that have the material or nonmaterial resources that can address the existing gaps?
    • What types of interested parties can be reached through each potential partner organization?
    • What interests and equities do the potential partner organizations have in providing home internet access to students, families, and the broader community?
  • Clearly define and document each partner or collaborator’s role on the project
    • Is a formal partnership agreement (e.g., contract, grant agreement) or informal partnership agreement necessary?
  • Establish methods for regular communication and coordination
    • How will partners engage synchronously (e.g., regular meeting) or asynchronously to ensure that all project partners are aware of the latest developments and on the same page?
    • Whose job is it to manage communications between project partners? Ensure this person has the capacity to both recruit and maintain these new connections.

1. This chart is adapted from National Telecommunications and Information Administration BroadbandUSA. (2017). The Power of Broadband Partnership. Retrieved from

2. Questions 2-4 are adapted from National Telecommunications and Information Administration BroadbandUSA. (2017). The Power of Broadband Partnership. Retrieved from