On July 15, President Obama announced a new program called ConnectHome, which is designed to make broadband access more affordable to low-income American households. A partnership between the federal government, numerous municipal governments, and several large Internet Service Providers (ISPs), ConnectHome is expected to bring broadband access to 275,000 households in 28 communities in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

According to a White House press release, half of households in the bottom 20 percent of household income currently lack Internet access. A Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) study released in conjunction with the ConnectHome announcement claims that income plays an even bigger factor than geography in determining families’ access to high-speed Internet.

Although the program’s goal is to help all members of low-income families, it specifically mentions students as those who can benefit from broadband access. The 275,000 eligible households include 200,000 children for whom the homework gap presents an obstacle to learning and future success.

Which cities are included?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development used local commitment to improvement and “place-based programs” as factors in selecting the communities that will participate in ConnectHome. These communities are:

Arkansas: Little Rock
California: Fresno and Los Angeles
Colorado: Denver
Connecticut: Meriden
Florida: Tampa
Georgia: Albany, Atlanta, and Macon
Illinois: Rockford
Louisiana: Baton Rouge and New Orleans
Maryland: Baltimore
Massachusetts: Boston and Springfield
Missouri: Kansas City
New Jersey: Camden
New York: New York City
North Carolina: Durham
Ohio: Cleveland
Oklahoma: Choctaw Nation
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
Tennessee: Memphis and Nashville
Texas: San Antonio
Washington: Seattle
Washington, D.C.

Which ISPs are participating?

Eight different ISPs have agreed to be involved in ConnectHome, offering service to low-income areas. These include CenturyLink, Cox Communications, Google Fiber, Sprint, and Cherokee Communications, Pine Telephone, Suddenlink Communications, and Vyve Broadband. The last four will provide service to the Choctaw reservation in Oklahoma. Each ISP will service those areas in which it has existing broadband network resources: CenturyLink already offers fiber service in Seattle, as Google does in four cities in the ConnectHome program. In some cases, service will be free and, in others, it will cost $9.95 or $14.95 per month.

Would you like to use your lifeline?
ConnectHome won’t stand alone, and other government programs can offer assistance to those for which paying even $14.95 a month might be difficult. Remember that in June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to expand the Lifeline subsidy program to cover broadband access. Eligible families may now receive a $9.25-per-month subsidy for broadband access, which could make getting online nearly free for many families. Eligible families with school-aged children will be able to access Sprint’s wireless network through the ConnectED program.

Access Meets Learning
Although Internet access is perhaps the most important feature of the new program, it’s not the only one. A number of non-profit and for-profit entities including the American Library Association, Best Buy, College Board, GitHub, the James M. Cox Foundation, and PBS will provide various digital literacy opportunities for eligible households so that those families who gain access to the Internet also gain the knowledge they need to use it to their advantage.

Only the Beginning
The White House-cited CEA study makes it clear that ConnectHome in and of itself won’t be enough to close the digital divide. Though there’s currently no available timeframe for implementation of initial ConnectHome access, the program will expand to serve more households in new communities. President Obama has announced his desire to expand high-speed Internet access to every American household, having called broadband “a necessity” rather than a luxury.

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