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Eastern Oregon school districts and businesses provide internet options

ISPs, cellphone carriers and school districts in eastern Oregon are stepping up to extend distance learning access to students without internet service.

UMATILLA COUNTY, Ore. — After Oregon students got the news on Wednesday that they will be “distance learning” for the rest of the school year, students who don’t have internet access are at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, for those students, internet providers, cellphone carriers and school districts are stepping up to extend access.

Charter is now offering free Spectrum broadband internet for 60 days to households with at least one K-12 or college student who do not already get service through Charter if they call 844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived.

The company is also opening up its Wi-Fi hotspots, which usually require a Charter customer password and username, for free public use. They can be located at www.spectrum.com/free-wifi-hotspots.html.

“As the country works collaboratively to contain this pandemic, broadband internet access will be increasingly essential to ensuring that people across the country are able to learn and work remotely, that businesses can continue to serve customers, and that Americans stay connected and engaged with family and friends,” the company stated.

Comcast is also opening up Xfinity Wi-Fi Network for free nationally. The network has several locations in Hermiston and Pendleton and two in Pilot Rock. People can find the hotspots by downloading the Xfinity app or searching for their ZIP code at https://wifi.xfinity.com.

For current CenturyLink customers, the company is suspending limits on data usage, waiving late fees and holding off on terminating service for people who are struggling to pay their bill.

Eastern Oregon Telecom recently extended Athena, Weston and Adams their first broadband internet service, and is offering customers in those areas free installation and their first two months of service free. Customers who have already signed up can get two months of internet free if they refer a friend. Service can be set up by calling 541-289-7000.

Pendleton Fiber Co. posted to its website that Wtechlink is waiving installation fees for new customers in the next 60 days who need internet installed to participate in school or work from home, and is encouraging current customers who are struggling to pay their bill because of COVID-19 to call the office at 541-276-2887 to discuss payment plans.

Cellphone carriers

The nation’s largest cellphone carriers have all signed a pledge to increase access during the COVID-19 crisis, including waiving late fees and not disrupting service for people who contact the carrier to show they’re experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19.

AT&T and T-mobile have both launched $15 monthly plans. T-mobile is giving current customers unlimited data and AT&T is giving current customers an additional 10GB of data.

Sprint is giving unlimited data to capped plans for the next 60 days and adding 20GB of hotspot data for those who have Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

Through April 30, Verizon is adding 15GB of data, free international calling and unlimited domestic minutes to most plans.

School districts providing internet options

Some school districts are also working to provide their own internet options for students, in addition to making Chromebooks available for students to check out.

Umatilla School District has set up Wi-Fi hotspots in its school parking lots and in neighborhoods around the city, and in some cases providing individual students with internet if they are not within walking distance of a hotspot.

Pendleton School District sent a letter home to parents detailing options for students, including Wi-Fi hotspots at Washington and McKay Creek elementary schools.

Stanfield School District is working to procure internet hotspot devices that can be checked out to families in need. Families without internet access are asked to reach out to Superintendent Beth Burton at 541-449-8766.

Echo School District families without internet are asked to contact Superintendent Raymon Smith at rsmith@echosd5.org.

This article was originally published by East Oregonian, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.

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