A program to offer free unlimited WiFi to students learning online during the pandemic has been extended through the end of the year, AT&T announced Friday night.
The program for families on government assistance was set to end next week, but advocates asked AT&T to consider an extension as many students in the area depend on that internet access.
In a statement from AT&T on Friday evening, the company said it is automatically waiving home internet data overage charges for its internet customers through Dec. 31.
"That means new and existing AT&T Fiber and AT&T Internet customers can use unlimited data and won't see overage charges on their home internet bill through December 31," the company said.
More students across America are returning to classrooms but many are still learning from home, whether out of fear of COVID-19 or because some districts still haven't returned to in-person learning.
On the first day of virtual school in Dallas, we met student after student having trouble connecting.
"We were having trouble logging in, and since they haven't given us the hotspot we had to use the internet from other devices," said student Garcia.
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As the district still works through connectivity issues many students are relying on home WiFi to stay connected to the classroom. In many low-income homes, their only internet connection is through a smartphone.
Dallas-based AT&T offers low-cost internet service for families on government assistance. If you use too much there's a fee. AT&T dropped the overage fee when COVID-19 first broke out.
AT&T had planned to bring the fees back saying families rarely go over the allotted 1TB give.
Amanda Kloer with the advocacy group Parents Together has tried to get an extension on the program saying the need across the country is strong.
"It's really desperate and unfortunately common that families will rely on cell service and hotspot tethering to get work done and a lot of families that drive to a McDonalds or Starbucks and sit in their car in the parking lot trying to use that WiFi connection. That's a challenging environment for children to learn in," said Kloer.
AT&T also expanded the number of families that qualify for the low-cost program.
The issue still furthers the need for a permanent solution to the lack of internet in low-income communities -something Dallas School Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is working to provide with various partners including AT&T but the plan is in the millions.
"We started at 30 but it's north of 50 now. So who knows?" Hinojosa told us in an interview in July.