The Connectivity Gap

Businessman pointing to wi-fi button with light blue world map connection on city tower Technology and internet concept Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Low-income families without high-speed internet access face significant disadvantages at school and in the job search process. Here’s what government agencies are doing about it.

Why Affordable Internet Service is Essential

 

The internet dominates the digital era, and access to this service has never been more important. Across the U.S. and around the world, people use the internet to stream entertainment, find and apply for jobs, connect on social media, and so much more.

 

While approximately 84% of American adults use the internet, an estimated 5 million American families still do not have high speed internet access. A huge barrier keeping families from web connectivity is the cost. Many low-income families cannot afford internet service on top of their normal monthly bills.

 

Without access to the web, two of the most affected populations are students and job seekers.

 

  • Students | The Atlantic reveals that kids who don’t have access to the internet inevitably fall behind. Web access is needed for both research purposes and homework assignments that are completed via online software. Although the majority of U.S. schools are connected to the internet, not all have the high speed access they need.
  • Job Seekers | Pew Research Center found that roughly two-thirds of Americans feel their lack of broadband access puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to finding job opportunities or acquiring new career skills. A whopping 79% of job searchers said they’d used online resources and information to find a new gig.

Expanding Access

ConnectHome

In an effort to bring high speed broadband to more families across the U.S., President Obama launched the ConnectHome initiative in 2015. The private sector, federal government and local communities came together to provide internet to 275,000 low-income households and nearly 200,000 children.

Lifeline Internet

To continue the effort, in March 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed to expand its Lifeline program to include broadband internet service for low-income families. Lifeline Internet service is coming soon.

A little history:

  • 1985 – Lifeline program is introduced and provides discounts on landline phone service for low-income consumers.
  • 2005 – Federal discounts are made available on pre-paid wireless service plans.
  • 2016 – The FCC expands program to include broadband internet access.

In response to the Lifeline Internet proposal, numerous telecommunications companies have adopted policies to provide discounted monthly rates for consumers who qualify as low-income. Internet services providers have different policies and application requirements, so it’s important to check with the provider to see program requirements and eligibility.

Resources

The internet is an invaluable asset when it comes to keeping up in school and staying on top of the job market. Check out the following resources for more information on internet options for low-income families.

  • EveryoneOn is a national nonprofit providing low-cost internet service, computers and free digital literacy courses to all unconnected Americans.
  • While you’re waiting on broadband access, you can visit your nearest public library to get online for free.
  • Freedom Pop, a non-contract internet provider, offers plans starting at $10/month.

Federal and local agencies can help you navigate assistance programs and determine your eligibility. Contact them for additional information.

Sources:

https://www.fcc.gov/general/lifeline-program-low-income-consumers

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/the-schools-where-kids-cant-go-online/387589/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/07/15/fact-sheet-connecthome-coming-together-ensure-digital-opportunity-all

https://www.fcc.gov/general/universal-service