SIGN THE PETITION: Demand action from elected officials and internet giants Comcast and Verizon to improve education by providing free internet for educators and students and give them an #OpportunitytoLearn.

State and Federal legislators, Comcast and Verizon

Prince George’s County Educators’ Association (PGCEA) is calling on elected officials and internet companies to provide free access for all educators and students during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The call to action comes on the heels of a January 2020 report highlighting existing resource inequalities in schools across Maryland.

Schools have consistently faced an opportunity gap widened by technology disparities, but have sought to balance the playing field for students by providing access to internet and computers on-site at school facilities. Now that these facilities are closed, many students are not receiving the quality education they deserve – and some are receiving no education at all, in the case of students without reliable connectedness.

Without the necessary resources, educators and students are forced to access public wifi networks, like their school's network, from cars and/or on their phones. Comcast and Verizon, who have a long-standing history of paying "less than zero" taxes despite its billions in profit, have a duty to pay it forward. Sign the petition to state and federal legislators, Comcast and Verizon, demanding access to free internet immediately.

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To: State and Federal legislators, Comcast and Verizon
From: [Your Name]

Schools nationwide have closed their doors abruptly in a desperate attempt to curb COVID-19 exposure. This was a necessary step in the interest of public health, but it also exposed and exacerbated the harsh opportunity gap between children and teachers in wealthy school districts and those in less advantaged districts.

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the harsh opportunity gap between children and educators in wealthy school districts and those in less advantaged communities. For many students and educators in less advantaged districts, access to the internet is a luxury they cannot afford. The Opportunity to Learn campaign is aimed at holding the government and corporations – specifically Comcast and Verizon – accountable for ensuring that the internet and other resources necessary for successful e-learning are made available to all students and teachers at no cost.

Nearly 40% of Marylanders do not have access to fiber-optic service and nearly one quarter of residents lack access to DSL service. But even for those who can access an internet connection in some fashion, the cost remains a barrier. Nearly 35% of Maryland's population does not have access to affordable internet plans. (Source)

In the Prince George school district, administrators have elected not to implement remote learning because they cannot guarantee that every student has access to the Internet. They, like many school systems in the region, have made schoolwork optional during this time of closure, which means that students are not learning.

Today, we do not know how many students are online and have adequate access to Wi-Fi. Without this necessary resource, students are being forced to access public wifi networks from cars, and attempt to do work on their phones and in school parking lots on the school’s network. Maryland’s educators face the same strain, with the added weight of their own ‘new normal’ working from home. They are facing a crisis that goes far beyond the issue of how to effectively teach remotely.

As our elected officials, we implore you: Please ask Comcast and Verizon to provide no-cost internet access to teachers and students during these unprecedented times.

Opportunity to Learn is calling on Comcast and Verizon to provide students and educators access to free internet immediately because these corporations have the ability and capacity. In 2019, total Verizon Business revenues were $31.4 billion. Verizon also has a long-standing and well-documented history of paying “less than zero” taxes despite its billions in profits. Comcast profits during that same time period topped $109 billion, an increase of 15.3% from the year before. In 2019, Comcast only paid $3.673 billion in taxes -- an amount equal to 3.3% of their profits.

These corporations have received considerable breaks on their obligation to our state and federal governments, despite billions upon billions in revenue. When state and federal governments miss out on fair tax revenue, our students miss out on the resources they need to succeed. The very least that Verizon and Comcast could do is step up and do their part to help our public schools in this time of crisis.

We have a moral and legal obligation to provide quality public education to all students, not simply to those who have internet access. As the weeks pass, we are failing to live up to that responsibility and, in turn, failing our kids. The ones who suffer the most – disproportionately so – are from low-income households who already have the deck stacked against them.

This request coincides with National Teacher Appreciation Week, and ours are truly exceptional. Our educators have gone to extraordinary lengths to adapt lessons and develop a curriculum based entirely in e-learning, but we lack a foundation that can only be provided through the support of government and private corporations; namely, no-cost reliable access to the internet.

Comcast and Verizon can help students, parents and educators right now. Your voice matters and we ask for your support today.