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Free Broadband Offered To Eligible Students To Help Bridge The Digital Divide

Watch the ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund’ video

A new half-a-million-dollar fund has launched today to help address digital inequity in New Zealand by providing free in-home internet access to eligible students in decile 1 high schools.

The ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund’ is the result of a collaboration between Ciena (NYSE: CIEN), Spark Foundation, Skinny and a network of decile 1 high schools around New Zealand.

From February 2021, eligible students who find that cost is a barrier to having an internet connection at home will be provided with a free Skinny Jump wireless modem and broadband connection – including 150GB of free data per month, until the end of the school year.

Skinny Jump is a not-for-profit broadband product managed by the Spark Foundation for as little as $5 a month. Together Ciena, a Spark supplier, and Spark will fund the full cost of Skinny Jump for eligible decile 1 high school students until the end of the school year.

The Fund will be launched with an initial cohort of seven schools in term 1, including, Manurewa High School, Mangere College and James Cook High in South Auckland; Bishop Viard in Porirua; Wairoa College and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngāti Kahungunu o Te Wairoa in Wairoa; and Tolaga Bay Area School in Tolaga Bay. From term 2 it may be extended to further eligible low decile high schools around New Zealand.

For Grant McMillan, Tumuaki Principal at James Cook High School in the South Auckland suburb of Manurewa, the Fund will offer students the opportunity to continue their learning at home and removes a barrier to participation.

“Being a principal of our school is both an opportunity and a responsibility. Our school doesn’t just provide our students with an education, but also the opportunities to learn life-skills, resilience and confidence to reach their potential,” says McMillan.

“When New Zealand went into COVID-19 lockdown and our school had to switch to online learning, this was impossible for many of our students who were without an internet connection in their home. For our community, COVID-19 showed the stark contrast between both sides of the digital divide. We worked with Skinny Jump to provide some students with an internet connection at home, so they could continue to learn and also have the same opportunities as everyone else in connecting with friends and family online in the absence of in-person connections.

“The feedback from some of the students who had never had an internet connection at home before has been humbling. For many of them, it has provided benefits to their whole family including siblings and parents who previously lacked digital skills or confidence. Having internet access at home, doesn’t just benefit students, but impacts everyone in the household.”

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says that as New Zealand transitions to more digital ways of working, learning and connecting, Kiwis without an internet connection at home are at a significant disadvantage.

“We know that digital equity is about more than just broadband access, but it is the first step in the journey and sadly, many of our team of 5 million aren't even at the starting line,” says Hodson.

“This is particularly acute for high school students, who need access to the internet to learn and study and will be entering a workforce that is increasingly digital. We are excited that our partner Ciena has come on board to help us accelerate the rollout of Skinny Jump and enable students and their families to experience some of the benefits that digital connectivity provides, such as the ability to learn at home, accessing essential services virtually or connecting with family and friends online.

“We currently have over 11,000 homes connected through Skinny Jump, a more than 100% increase since COVID-19 first hit. Our goal is to have 35,000 connected by 2023, which would address more than 15% of the homes in New Zealand that don’t currently have access.”

Ciena CEO Gary Smith says that Spark’s purpose to help all New Zealanders win big in a digital world aligns with Ciena’s own philosophy to expand opportunities through digital inclusion.

“A key aspect of addressing the digital divide is building up the underlying infrastructure that keeps us all connected, and that is core to Ciena’s business. We recently committed $10 million (USD) over the next 5 years to enable greater connectivity and expand opportunity for students, particularly those that have historically been underserved. We are excited to partner with the Spark Foundation to create the ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund,’ one of our first projects in support of our digital inclusion commitment,” says Smith.

“Spark is a new customer for Ciena and in addition to working together on a business level, we’re excited to collaborate on a shared vision to bridge this connectivity divide and drive digital inclusion.”

According to 2018 census data from Statistics New Zealand, 211,000 homes around the country still don’t have access to broadband and research from Internet NZ indicates that cost is the biggest barrier to this access.

Principal McMillan finished, “Connectivity isn’t a silver bullet to fix inequity, but being able to provide the service on such a large scale will give some of our students a fair chance to be able to succeed.”

Decile 1 high schools can learn more, including how to apply for funding (which will commence from term 2) through the Skinny Jump website.

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