With many households already feeling the pinch of inflation, the additional costs that come with the start of a new school year have led to what some not-for-profit agencies are calling a ‘cost of learning’ crisis.

In a combined effort to help alleviate some of these back-to-school costs, Spark New Zealand and Ciena (NYSE: CIEN) have confirmed that they will continue to offer digitally excluded students across Aotearoa free broadband throughout 2023.

“As the cost-of-living continues to increase, for some households this could mean having to choose between putting food on the table or paying for broadband. In this instance internet access naturally becomes a luxury that many choose to go without. However, students without broadband are at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers who can get online to access extra learning, complete homework, and learn valuable digital skills,” says Spark CEO, Jolie Hodson.

“Furthermore, as we’ve seen recently with schools in some parts of the country having to close due to the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle, sometimes unexpected events can occur which can mean that students are unable to physically attend school. In these instances, those students who can’t get online at home are unable to continue learning and fall further behind.

“Our subsidised broadband product, Skinny Jump, provides over 23,000 homes across Aotearoa with low-cost wireless broadband from just $5 a month, but thanks to our partner, Ciena, we have been able to provide Skinny Jump free to eligible students since 2021.”

The ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund’ offers eligible students across New Zealand who find that cost is a barrier to having an internet connection at home, a free Skinny Jump wireless modem and broadband connection – including 210GB of free data per month, until the end of the school year.

Shivika Prasad, Digital Equity Lead at Manurewa High School in South Auckland, says that the ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund’ has significantly benefited its students since its launch in 2021.

“This fund has been a real game changer for over 100 of our students and their families. Having access to the internet at home has empowered these students to take charge of their online learning, especially during more challenging times as we’ve experienced over the last couple of years.

“But the most remarkable thing is that providing internet access at home means that everyone in the household including the students’ wider whānau also receives access and a chance to develop digital skills and capabilities. By extension this benefits our wider Manurewa community as well.”

The New Zealand Government’s Digital Blueprint estimates that one in five New Zealanders experience digital exclusion in some form for a number of different reasons ranging from access, affordability, skills, motivation, trust and more. Although providing free access isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to fix the issue of digital inequity on its own, a solution like the ‘Ciena Jump for Students Fund’ that addresses affordability is a good place to start.

Matthew Vesperman, Regional Managing Director, Ciena Asia Pacific, says, “As a key enabler of innovations that drive connectivity and fuel our digital world, Ciena remains committed to providing greater access to the Internet, an essential learning tool for today’s young minds. Ciena Jump for Students fund is one of the first projects that Ciena committed to fund as part of our Digital Inclusion social impact programme. To see it being continued, together with our customer Spark, is definitely a breakthrough in our goals to help bridge the digital divide.”

Students and schools can learn more, including eligibility criteria and how to find your nearest Jump partner, through the Skinny Jump website.

About Spark
As New Zealand's largest telecommunications and digital services company, Spark’s purpose is to help all of New Zealand win big in a digital world. Spark provides mobile, broadband, and digital services to millions of New Zealanders and thousands of New Zealand businesses. www.sparknz.co.nz

About Ciena
Ciena (NYSE: CIEN) is a global leader in networking systems, services, and software. We build the most adaptive networks in the industry, enabling customers to anticipate and meet ever-increasing digital demands. For three-plus decades, Ciena has brought our humanity to our relentless pursuit of innovation. Prioritizing collaborative relationships with our customers, partners, and communities, we create flexible, open, and sustainable networks that better serve all users—today and into the future. For updates on Ciena, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, the Ciena Insights blog, or visit www.ciena.com.

Note to Ciena Investors
You are encouraged to review the Investors section of our website, where we routinely post press releases, SEC filings, recent news, financial results, and other announcements. From time to time we exclusively post material information to this website along with other disclosure channels that we use. This press release contains certain forward-looking statements that are based on our current expectations, forecasts, information and assumptions. These statements involve inherent risks and uncertainties.  Actual results or outcomes may differ materially from those stated or implied, because of risks and uncertainties, including those detailed in our most recent annual and quarterly reports filed with the SEC. Forward-looking statements include statements regarding our  expectations, beliefs, intentions or strategies and can be identified by words such as "anticipate," "believe," "could," "estimate," "expect," "intend," "may," "should," "will," and "would" or similar words. Ciena assumes no obligation to update the information included in this press release, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.