K-12 public schools are closing for two weeks and universities are moving classes online to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. These decisions are affecting students without internet access, but Charter Communications has offered a solution. 

Charter is giving free Spectrum broadband and wi-fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who don’t already have a subscription. New student households won’t pay installation fees. To enroll in the program, call 1-844-488-8395.

The private sector already plays a major role in providing equipment and services to public schools across the country, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. 

“It’s only natural that they would come to the aid of public education in its most distressing time,” Stoops said.

Charter Communications is working with school districts to ensure parents are aware of this opportunity, a news release from the company said. 

“By providing broadband services at no charge to families, these companies serve as the link between the educator and the child at a time when face-to-face interaction is not possible,” Stoops said.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order March 14 prohibiting mass gatherings of more than 100 people and directing all K-12 schools to close. Schools will be closed from March 16 to March 30.

The decision came a few days after the governor issued a state of emergency over the spread of the coronavirus. As of Monday, March 16, 34 people have tested positive for the virus. A Wake County teacher at Fuquay-Varina elementary school tested positive over the weekend, but the case had no bearing on the state’s decision to close schools, Cooper said.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education, and the state’s many universities are working on ways to pivot to online learning. 

While many students will be able to engage in some sort of digital learning, several students don’t have access to the internet at home. The N.C. Department of Information Technology conducted a survey in 2019 and found that around 10% of households were without internet access. But, survey limitations means the polling isn’t generalizable to the entire state. The exact statewide percentage of K-12 households without internet access is still unknown. 

“All North Carolina public school buildings have high-speed internet access, but the same cannot be said of the residences of the children who attend those schools,” Stoops said. “By absorbing the costs of providing their services, these companies are ensuring that inequities will not be a barrier to learning.”

The private sector is better equipped to provide solutions in ways the government can’t, said Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation. 

“The key for society is ensuring that business owners and enterprising and charitable-minded people in society are free to act, that they’re not blocked or prevented from the effort by unwieldy government rules,” Sanders said.