U.S. Expands Free Broadband Program for Low-Income Users

The ConnectHome pilot project will help bring high-speed Internet access to some 275,000 low-income households in 27 cities and in a tribal nation.

ConnectHome pilot project

In a continuing effort to bring broadband Internet capabilities to more low-income families in the United States, the White House has announced a new ConnectHome pilot project that will be conducted in 27 cities to expand the promise and potential of no-charge or low-cost Internet connectivity to some 275,000 households.

Under the new program, some 200,000 children who don't presently have high-speed Internet in their homes for their schoolwork will gain free access through a coalition of Internet Service Providers, non-profits and private companies that will provide the services and training, according to a July 15 White House announcement. President Barack Obama traveled to Durant, Okla., to unveil ConnectHome. The pilot project will also include the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma.

In a speech to the Choctaw Nation, where one-third of the community's children live in poverty, Obama said that only by having equal access to broadband can every American have an equal chance at being successful in their lives and work, according to a July 16 article in The New York Times.

"If we don't get these young people the access to what they need to achieve their potential, then it's our loss; it's not just their loss," Obama said, according to the report. "They've got big dreams. We've got to have an interest in making sure they can achieve those dreams."

Since assuming the presidency in 2009, Obama has been pushing the idea of expanding high-speed broadband to all Americans to put citizens on a more even playing field for education, job hunting and other critical life tasks. An earlier ConnectED initiative is already under way to help connect 99 percent of U.S. K-12 students to high-speed Internet in their classrooms and libraries over the next five years. The ConnectHome program is another part of that effort, which would then help ensure that these students have access to high-speed Internet once they get home, according to the White House.

The cities that will be part of the ConnectHome pilot are Albany, Ga.; Atlanta; Baltimore; Baton Rouge, La.; Boston; Camden, N.J.; Choctaw Nation, Okla.; Cleveland; Denver; Durham, N.C.; Fresno, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Los Angeles; Macon, Ga.; Memphis, Tenn.; Meriden, Conn.; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; New York; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; Rockford, Ill.; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; Springfield, Mass.; Tampa, Fla.; and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is collaborating with private and community groups, such as EveryoneOn and US Ignite, to build local partnerships that will organize and build the pilot program in the participating cities.

Cable Internet providers, including Google Fiber, Cox Communications, CenturyLink, Sprint and Cherokee Communications, are contributing to the efforts in their regions, according to the announcement.

Google Fiber will provide free Internet services to residents in Atlanta, Durham, Kansas City, and Nashville in select public housing authority properties under the program. In Seattle and other areas, CenturyLink will make broadband service available to HUD households for $9.95 per month for 12 months through its Internet Basics program. The rate will increase to $14.95 per month for the next four years.

In Macon, Meriden, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Cox will offer home Internet service for $9.95 per month to eligible K-12 families residing in public housing.

Sprint will work with HUD and the ConnectHome program to make its free wireless broadband Internet access service program available to eligible K-12 students living in public housing.

Under the initiative, Best Buy will offer HUD residents in select ConnectHome demonstration project cities, including Choctaw Nation, computer training and technical support as needed, while also providing free afterschool technical training to students participating in ConnectHome at Best Buy Teen Centers in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C. Other private companies will provide discounted computers and software as well as digital learning resources and more.

A report from the President's Council of Economic Advisers states that less than half the nation's poorest households have home Internet access, even though most have a computer. "While many middle-class U.S. students go home to Internet access, allowing them to do research, write papers and communicate digitally with their teachers and other students, too many lower-income children go unplugged every afternoon when school ends," according to the White House. "This 'homework gap' runs the risk of widening the achievement gap, denying hardworking students the benefit of a technology-enriched education."