Obama to Extend High-Speed Internet to Low-Income Americans

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Longley, Robert. "Obama to Extend High-Speed Internet to Low-Income Americans." ThoughtCo, May. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/high-speed-internet-low-income-americans-3321237. Longley, Robert. (2016, May 17). Obama to Extend High-Speed Internet to Low-Income Americans. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/high-speed-internet-low-income-americans-3321237 Longley, Robert. "Obama to Extend High-Speed Internet to Low-Income Americans." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/high-speed-internet-low-income-americans-3321237 (accessed October 18, 2017).
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Federal Program to Extend Internet to Low-Income Homes and Students. Adam Berry/Getty Images

President Obama has announced an ambitious new program intended to provide low-income households with easily affordable high-speed Internet service.

To be operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the ConnectHome program will initially provide over 275,000 low-income households and nearly 200,000 children across the U.S. and on tribal lands with access to high-speed broadband Internet services.

According to the White House, Internet Service Providers, non-profits and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units.

Initially, the ConnectHome program will be made available in 28 communities including:

Albany, GA; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Baton Rouge, LA; Boston, MA; Camden, NJ; Choctaw Nation, OK; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Durham, NC; Fresno, CA; Kansas City, MO; Little Rock, AR; Los Angeles, CA; Macon, GA; Memphis, TN; Meriden, CT; Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Rockford, IL; San Antonio, TX; Seattle, WA; Springfield, MA; Tampa, FL; and Washington, DC.

The ConnectHome initiative is an extension of the Obama administration’s Connecting America program intended to extend high speed broadband Internet access to all Americans and its ConnectED initiative, with a goal of connecting 99% of K-12 students to high-speed Internet in their classrooms and libraries by 2020.

Created in March 2015, the president’s Broadband Opportunity Council includes 25 federal agencies and departments working to expand broadband access nationwide.

According to the White House, universal broadband access is critical to America’s economic competitiveness in the 21st century global economy and improving education, health care, and public safety.

Who Still Does Not Have Broadband Access?

While 98% of Americans now live in areas where high-speed 4G wireless broadband Internet is available, a Pew Research Center survey shows that fewer than 50% of households with annual incomes under $25,000 have Internet service, compared to 92% of households with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000. In addition, at least 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed Internet service, according to the American Library Association.

“While nearly two-thirds of households in the lowest-income quintile own a computer, less than half have a home internet subscription,” the White House said in a statement. “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. This 'homework gap' runs the risk of widening the achievement gap, denying hardworking students the benefit of a technology-enriched education.”

How and How Much Will it Cost

To make the ConnectHome pilot program work, the federal government will partner with several major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other public and private sector organizations.

For example:

  • Google Fiber has committed to offer free monthly Internet service to homes in certain HUD public housing communities in Atlanta, Durham, North Carolina, Kansas City, Missouri and Nashville.
     
  • ISP CenturyLink will offer its broadband Internet service to HUD public housing projects in the Seattle area starting at $9.95 a month for the first year, increasing to $14.95 over the next four years.
     
  • Cox Communications will offer home Internet service for $9.95 per month to eligible K-12 families residing in public housing in Macon, Meriden, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.
     
  • 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.
     
  • Cherokee Communications, Pine Telephone, Suddenlink Communications, and Vyve Broadband will work together to provide low-cost, high-speed internet to over 425 residents in select communities of the Oklahoma Choctaw Tribal Nation.
     
  • Home improvement retailer Best Buy will offer public housing residents in select ConnectHome demonstration project cities, including Choctaw Tribal Nation computer training and technical support.

“Since the president took office, the private and public sectors have invested over $260 billion into new broadband infrastructure, and three in four Americans now use broadband at home," the White House said. “Thanks to smart spectrum policies and world-leading technology, fast 4G wireless broadband is now available to over 98% of Americans -- up from 0% since 2009.”

HUD noted that the ConnectHome demonstration program relies only on already-available HUD resources along with the cooperation of the public and private sector organizations involved, and that no additional federal funding will be required.