FCC Offers Broadband to Low-Income Families

According to an FCC research study, one-third of all Americans - 100 million people - haven't adopted broadband at home.

The Federal Communications Commission is unveiling a plan to bring broadband Internet connections to eligible low-income families in the form of a contract for two years of $9.95 broadband cable Internet, with a no installation or activation fee option and no modem rental fees (with an option to purchase a $10 modem). The offer will cover 15 million to 25 million Americans, including 10 million to 15 million students, and the offer service area covers over 86 percent of the population and reaches all 50 states, according to the FCC.

Regulators said eligible families must have at least one student enrolled in the Free School Lunch Program, not be a current subscriber to broadband (or have subscribed in the previous 90 days), and not have an overdue bill or unreturned equipment to the participating service provider. In addition, Redemtech, a technology refurbishment company, will offer refurbished $150 notebooks, or desktops with LCD monitor, to all eligible school lunch families, shipped to the home. The PCs will be preloaded to guide users to educational, informational and job training content.

According to an FCC research study, one-third of all Americans-about 100 million people-haven't adopted broadband at home. Broadband adoption is key to America's competitiveness, to jobs, e-government, education and energy, the report said. The report also noted there is a growing divide between the digital-haves and have-nots: Fewer than a third of the poorest Americans have adopted broadband, while more than 90 percent of the richest have adopted broadband. About 46 percent of low-income families have adopted broadband at home, compared with over 90 percent of higher-income families.

Internet service providers participating in the plan, which was announced Nov. 9, include Bend Cable, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast (via Internet Essentials), Cox Communications, Eagle Communications, GCI, Insight, Mediacom, Midcontinent, Sjoberg's Cable, Suddenlink and Time Warner Cable. Offers will launch in Phase I areas in the spring of 2012 and will be expanded nationwide in September 2012.

In addition, Morgan Stanley has committed to contributing its microfinance expertise to assist the Connect to Compete program in its development of a microcredit program to help families afford the upfront cost of a PC. The program will also aim to provide financial literacy training and help families build credit history through successful loan repayment. The microloans will be provided by community-based financial institutions, the FCC said.

"Cox Communications and the cable industry are proud to pledge our support for the FCC's -Connect to Compete' broadband adoption initiative, which combines encouragement, assistance and training so that more students and families can take advantage of the broadband opportunity," Cox President Pat Esser said in a statement. "Cox has launched its own community-based broadband adoption initiatives in California, Virginia and other markets so we have seen first-hand how the comprehensive approach of attacking the entire broadband adoption challenge-from digital literacy to affordability to relevance-is vitally important to making the connection a success."

Private companies and non-profits announced the formation of Connect to Compete, a nonprofit initiative to execute the nonprofit and private sector offerings made to help close the digital divide, in October. The organization, which will be housed at One Economy, will be a collaborative effort with other nonprofits and industry partners. The Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies will serve as the independent evaluator of Connect to Compete and will implement a longitudinal research plan that sets program metrics and assesses the short- and long-term impact of the initiative.