SAN JOSE (KPIX) – The City of San Jose has a big back-to-school offer for thousands of students: free mobile Internet hotspots.

As schools prepare to start the year with distance learning, the need for Internet connections is greater than ever, according to Mayor Sam Liccardo.

“It was important for us to meet the urgency of the moment, where we’ve got thousands of kids today who cannot learn online and we want to make sure that we’re getting to them while this pandemic is still shutting our schools down,” Mayor Liccardo said.

The program is part of a unique partnership between the city and AT&T to provide devices and service to students whose families can’t afford them.

“These mobile hotspots will include an unlimited plan for data for twelve months, to keep distance-learning more accessible to the students,” said Rhonda Johnson with AT&T.

The program is paid for by an $8.2 million digital access fund and the state of California Cares Act. It’s targeting schools in the city identified as having the most need.

“The free year of service is going to be perfect because a lot of us lost hours, jobs. A lot of things were taken from us,” said Juan Cervantes, who lives near James Lick High and works two jobs to get by.

Cervantes wants to sign up his 15-year-old daughter.

“There’s a lot of us parents who didn’t graduate and so we’re limited to what we can teach them at home ourselves. But once you get the Internet and have access, I think the kids will start learning more and get back into the routine,” Cervantes said.

“This will provide a significant investment and get us on the path for Internet connectivity. However, the need is still great,” said Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Superintendent of the County Office of Education.

Some 8,000 students and families will be referred to get devices and service through their schools. Another 3,000 hotspots will be available to check out at San Jose Public Libraries.

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