By Zach Leverenz.
Once considered a luxury, access to Internet and technology has become absolutely essential to succeeding in school, searching for a job, and being productive at work. Despite the benefits of increased connectivity and broadband-enabled technologies, many U.S. households remain unconnected. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four households is without Internet access. Income remains the primary indicator of whether an individual will have Internet access at home. Only 45.3% of households making less than $30,000 a year access the Internet at home.
Lack of access imposes significant financial burdens on unconnected households. The Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) studied how much money a household can save with high-speed Internet access. The IIA reported savings of over $8,000 a year on entertainment, housing, and other necessities.
Before we can even begin to think about how cities can connect all residents to economic opportunity, it is important for all of us to address how every person can have access to the essential tools they need to compete in this dynamic, global economy. The good news is that this problem is 100% solvable. Three transformational trends are making it possible to achieve universal adoption:
- Nearly ubiquitous coverage: According to the National Telecommunications and Information Association, 98% of U.S. residents have access to basic broadband service.
- Dropping technology costs: For-profit Internet service providers are creating sustainable low-cost Internet offers, while it becomes cheaper to purchase laptops and tablets each year.
- Unprecedented alignment of public and private sector interest: Corporations and public agencies are recognizing the cost of the divide and working together to develop solutions.
At EveryoneOn, a nonprofit organization devoted to closing the digital divide, we partner with a variety of organizations to convert these trends into scalable programs and offerings for low-income households.
Leverage the power of public-private partnerships.
The movement to create a more digitally inclusive society benefits from the collaboration between for-profit hardware, content, and Internet service providers, as well as community-based organizations and nonprofits. These partnerships give unconnected students, adults, and families access to the affordable resources they need to succeed in our digital society.
Through key partnerships, EveryoneOn is able to provide up to 36 million unconnected U.S. residents the following:
- Internet service for as low as $10 a month from leading Internet service providers, including Cox, Mobile Beacon, Mobile Citizen, and FreedomPop
- A database of free digital literacy courses at over 8,000 sites across the United States
- Low-cost devices, including $150 tablets and $199 laptops
The White House’s ConnectED initiative is the biggest example of the power of private-public partnerships. Large corporations, from Microsoft to Sprint, donated $750 million worth of hardware, curriculum, and wireless service. By working with the Federal Communications Commission, these companies will help us meet our country’s goal of increasing the use of technology in the classroom to drive academic achievement.
Create more inclusive eligibility standards for low-cost technology offers.
When EveryoneOn first began, many low-cost Internet service program targeted families with K-12 students who qualified for the National School Lunch Program. These programs play an important role in allowing individualized, digital learning to take place at home for all students. This solution, however, did not work for the millions of adults without children who could not afford Internet access and needed it to search for jobs, connect with their family members, and access government services. In order to broaden the reach of these offers, eligibility requirements needed to change.
One way to do this is to change the eligibility requirements to aggressively target all members of low-income communities. For example, EveyoneOn partnered with internet service providers Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen to offer individuals living in communities with a low median annual income unlimited 4G Internet for $10 a month. Under this rubric, more than 36 million U.S. residents qualify for the new service offering.
Another benefit of these new eligibility standards is that it allows us to target vulnerable populations that have been neglected in the past, including seniors on fixed incomes and unemployed, single adults. We hope to see more public and private programs adopting these kinds of requirements.
Make strategic investments designed to increase broadband adoption.
In the past year, cities, school districts, and community-based organizations discovered they could make strategic financial investments to fast-track broadband adoption. These investments allow them to subsidize or pay for computers, routers and service for a month or a more. This allows us to quickly overcome the biggest barrier to getting households online: cost.
Connect.DC, an agency created by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer to bridge the digital divide by making technology more accessible, affordable and relevant to District residents, pledged to get 1,000 D.C. households online. Connect. DC also set aside $25,000 to subsidize the cost of computers, routers, and Internet service. Connect. DC will work with EveryoneOn and other community-based organizations to target the neediest households and give them the tools to get online. Miami Dade Public School District supplemented their digital learning initiatives by providing wireless Internet service to students without home access.
The only way for all city residents to enjoy economic opportunity is to guarantee they have the necessary tools to compete in the global economy. One of the most important tools is home Internet access, which connects individuals to jobs and helps them refine their skills. Through the collaborative work of for-profit and nonprofit partners and strategic financial investments, we can provide the millions of unconnected households with programs that offer free and low-cost Internet and computers.
This post originally appeared on Meeting of the Minds City Minded blog: http://cityminded.org/creating-opportunity-connectivity-11020. Cross-posted at Living Cities.
Zach Leverenz (@ZachLeverenz) serves as the Chief Executive Officer of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that aims to eliminate the digital divide by providing free and low-cost Internet, computers, and free digital literacy training to unconnected U.S. residents.