June 2021

Dear Friends & Partners,

Like everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly shifted my family’s world. My four children began learning from home, like all 340,000 students in Chicago’s public school system. My work as a parent liaison at DePriest Elementary, along with my children’s experiences, showed me firsthand that access to the internet — already a critical need before the pandemic — was compounded in communities like mine.

I shared these major concerns with Kids First Chicago (K1C), where I serve on the Parent Advisory Board.

The K1C team listened to me and hundreds of other Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents, and then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work on finding a solution.

From appearing with my family in the Chicago Connected promotional video (which was retweeted by President Barack Obama!) to serving on Chicago Connected’s guiding team, I have been involved every step of the way. Together K1C, CPS, the City, parents like me, and many other public and private partners worked together to bring this groundbreaking initiative to life.

As parents, we know our children best and are best positioned to see what they need to succeed — especially in times of crisis.

The success of Chicago Connected, which is well on its way to providing 100,000 students with free internet access, is proof positive that parent voice is essential to ensuring that the district and the city serve our children equitably.

I’m glad to have a seat at the table as we work together to ensure that all kids have access to a high-quality education.


Claiborne Wade
Austin Community Area Parent

Program Impact & Benefits

2021 Chicago Connected Family Survey

One year later, we asked families to share their feedback on how the program was working for them and what barriers existed to accessing high-speed internet.

Kids First Chicago surveyed more than 30,000 Chicago Connected families, and nearly 5,000 newly connected families responded, to share their feedback on how the program was working for them and what barriers existed to accessing high-speed internet.

Program Components:

  • CPS provides outreach to all eligible families based on students’ home address.
  • Families sign up directly with internet service providers (ISPs) using a unique code provided by CPS.
  • Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) supplement CPS outreach with a particular focus on the hardest-to-reach households. Additionally, CBOs provide newly-connected families with digital literacy training and skills development curriculum.
  • Participating Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer the highest-speed broadband at the lowest possible cost.
  • The City of Chicago and its philanthropic partners created a funding pool to (1) pay for in-home broadband for eligible households and (2) compensate community-based organizations for their training and support of newly-connected households.
  • The United Way of Metro Chicago acts as a fiscal agent to provide payment to ISPs on a monthly basis for all households connected through the initiative.
  • The Children First Fund acts as a fiscal agent to provide payment to community-based organizations.

Kids First Chicago provides critical project management to all partners. You can learn more about our role and work to date by clicking the button below.



The survey included an embedded speed test to easily measure respondents’ internet speeds. The majority of respondents reported that their internet was fast enough to stream video on multiple devices at the same time.

  • 45% reported being able to stream live video on 3-5 devices simultaneously without interruptions.

Note: Initially, approximately 33% of families reported slow browsing speeds three or more days per week. After the survey was conducted, both Comcast and RCN doubled internet speeds for Chicago Connected families, ensuring that families have enough bandwidth to learn online and much more, and demonstrating the program’s commitment to continuous improvement.


  • 82% reported using the internet to access the district’s remote learning content
  • 71% of families use the internet outside of schooling to communicate over email and search for information online


  • 44% of respondents wanted to earn a new degree and 37% wanted to get a new job in the next 5 years
  • After survey results showed that 67% of respondents were interested in technology training as part of Chicago Connected, the Digital Literacy Guiding Team launched a three-pronged approach to serving families’ digital literacy needs: self-paced resources, live trainings from local community-based organizations, and access to citywide, one-on-one tech support.


  • In an effort to reach families, CPS devised a multi-pronged communication strategy, including direct mail, phone/text, and email. 94% learned about the program from CPS, demonstrating the effectiveness of their strategies.


More than 4 in 5 respondents were neutral, satisfied, or very satisfied with the program

Of those who chose to have a technician visit their home, 89% said the technician was compliance with COVID-19 guidelines

61% who self-installed their equipment were satisfied with instructions

Looking Ahead

Making the Case for Universal, No-Cost Broadband Access

The creation of Chicago Connected, the longest-term, most comprehensive connectivity program in the nation, is truly groundbreaking. Chicago Connected is eliminating broadband accessibility as a barrier to digital learning—and providing a roadmap for other cities and school districts to follow.

From its initial launch and throughout implementation, Chicago Connected partners have embraced an “open source” approach, sharing lessons learned along the way. More than 20 cities have reached out to Kids First Chicago and its public-private partners to learn more about the program’s creation and model. Philadelphia and Miami have both launched initiatives modeled after Chicago Connected in design and structure. Education SuperHighway featured Chicago Connected as a case study in bridging the urban digital divide.

Chicago Connected serves as a foundation for increased access to broadband as a public utility. At both the local and national levels, policymakers are beginning to acknowledge that access to broadband is an essential part of daily life, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens agree: nearly 90% of Chicago voters voted “yes” when asked if the City should “act to ensure that all the city’s community areas have access to broadband internet.”

Using the scalable model that Chicago Connected offers, the City is currently evaluating additional ways to improve internet infrastructure investments in communities in need and connect more residents citywide. Further, the Biden administration has made digital access a strategic priority at the federal level.

Ultimately, Kids First Chicago envisions a future where lack of access to the internet is no longer a barrier to student success, giving all kids access to the kind of education that will open doors to opportunity and foster greater prosperity—for all.