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updated: 9/11/2013 11:27 AM

Dist. 220 giving low-income students Internet access

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Barrington Unit District 220 and its community and corporate partners on Tuesday unveiled the details of an innovative program aimed to be a model for the rest of the country.

Project Horsepower -- a nod to the district's Bronco mascot -- will provide home Internet service at no cost to low-income families who qualify for the national free-and-reduced lunch program.

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The district's partners in the program are Comcast, Netgear and the Barrington Area Development Council.

Netgear will donate Wi-Fi routers to the approximately 700 families in the district who qualify.

Comcast will make its low-cost Internet Essentials broadband service available for $10 per month. And the Barrington Area Development Council will raise funds locally to pay the Comcast fees.

Development council Trustee Joe Kelsch said the fundraising will be relatively low-key but emphasize how many families each donation will help.

"We feel Project Horsepower meets a critical, unmet community need," Kelsch said. "I believe we will look back on this day as a watershed moment."

District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard said the role of education has always been to open doors for students and create citizens who can give something back to society. But kids whose families can't afford Internet access at home are at a distinct disadvantage, he added.

"The way we opened doors a century ago isn't the way we open doors today," Leonard said. "Kids, right now, really need that Internet access."

School board President Brian Battle said that in the classroom during the school day, all students are equal. But low-income students face challenges doing their homework and performing research in the evening, creating an inequality.

The goal of Project Horsepower is to close that gap, Battle said.

Bret Perkins, vice president of external and government affairs for Comcast, said he's been aware that access to the Internet isn't equal in his own diverse neighborhood. His company's Internet Essentials program has already provided access to 900,000 people in the past 22 months -- about the population of DuPage County.

Robin Selden, chief marketing officer of Netgear, said her husband is a high school biology teacher and she can't imagine what his classes would be like if his students and their parents didn't have home Internet access.

Netgear's Wi-Fi routers are expected to be delivered in October and the program to be fully implemented in early 2014.

The school district already has planned to provide all middle- and high-school students with laptops and all elementary students with iPads within the next 18 months. But the district will have no further financial costs under Project Horsepower.

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