November 21, 2017

ConnectHome Program To Provide Broadband for 275,000 Low-Income Households

connect-homeOn July 15 President Barack Obama announced the launch of the “ConnectHome” broadband initiative, which will provide high speed home Internet access to nearly 200,000 children in more than 275,000 low-income households. ConnectHome is the next step in Obama’s Connecting America initiative. In January the president announced planned steps to help ensure that reliable, affordable broadband would be more widely available, including the promotion of community-based broadband and a calling for State and local governments to roll back restrictive regulations. And the ConnectED initiative, which Obama announced in April, aims to connect 99 percent of American students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms by 2018.

The ConnectHome pilot program will launch in 27 cities selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—Albany, Atlanta, and Macon, GA; Baltimore; Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA; Boston; Camden and Newark, NJ; Cleveland; Denver; Durham, NC; Fresno and Los Angeles, CA; Kansas City, MO; Little Rock, AR; Memphis and Nashville, TN; Meriden, CT; New York City; Philadelphia; Rockford, IL; San Antonio, TX; Seattle; Springfield, MA; Tampa, FL; and Washington, DC—and one tribal nation, Choctaw Nation, OK. Eight Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including Google Fiber and Sprint, will partner with mayors, public housing authorities, and business entities to provide broadband access to assisted housing units.

Nonprofits and private sector businesses will collaborate with HUD to provide a number of support services for low-income housing residents. Best Buy will offer computer training and technical support, including afterschool technical training for students. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is planning educational, children’s, and digital literacy content specifically for ConnectHome participants, and Age of Learning Inc., will offer its ABCmouse.com online early learning curriculum for free. Boys and Girls Clubs of America will provide digital literacy training in participating communities where they have a chapter; Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Durant Independent School District are collaborating on similar courses for residents of the Choctaw Tribal Nation.

In Macon, the James M. Cox Foundation will make 1,500 tablets, pre-loaded with educational software, available for $30 to participating students. Organizations such as GitHub, the 80/20 Foundation, and the College Board in partnership with Khan Academy have pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to support devices and digital literacy.

Not only will ConnectHome provide connectivity for residents of existing low-income housing, but HUD Secretary Julián Castro announced new rules for future HUD-funded residential construction and rehabilitation projects that will support broadband access for residents. HUD will also provide new guidelines for spending on broadband by HUD-funded grantees, and options for recipients of Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants to spend them on local broadband initiatives.

LIBRARIES PLAYING A PART

The American Library Association (ALA) plans to lead a collaboration with local libraries in all ConnectHome communities to deliver support for both children and adults. ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) will help develop programing, said ALA president Sari Feldman, to enable users “not just to be digitally connected but digitally competent,” including instruction in digital literacy, privacy issues, and technical skills. The latter, she explained, extends to helping ConnectHome participants make informed decisions about the equipment they will need.

“Helping people to make choices about connectivity is going to be important,” Feldman told LJ, “and to make choices about devices, to understand the differences. We recognize that people who are late adopters, who have not, perhaps, gone through a stepping-stone relationship with technology, are going to need support to know what is the best device to meet their individual needs or the needs of their families.”

“[Libraries] have really helped to lead the way in our communities,” Feldman added, “so to be recognized as a partner in ConnectHome for…people with the least opportunity and least access is very important to us as a profession. What we’re hoping to do through ALA is to help strengthen the collaboration by sharing best practices across the country and to be able to help communities deliver some of the on-site digital literacy programing and resources to public housing residents.”

MAKING BROADBAND A PRIORITY

The President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) issued an analysis, Mapping the Digital Divide, to coincide with the announcement. Among other findings, it shows that less than half of the country’s lowest-income households have home Internet access. “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,” stated an accompanying White House fact sheet, “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.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey Report on Computer and Internet Use in the United States, while 92 percent of households with income between $100,000 and $150,000 have broadband service, the adoption rate for households with income below $25,000 is only 47 percent (1.2 percent of low-income households have dial-up Internet access only, while eight percent have mobile-only access). Some five million households with school-age children do not have high-speed Internet at home, a problem which disproportionately affects low-income, black, and Hispanic households.

“Librarians know from our work in communities every day that far, far too many Americans currently lack the technology access and skills to participate fully in education, employment, and civic life,” said Feldman in a statement. “Broadband is essential, and we are so pleased the Obama administration has made home broadband access a priority.”

“THE INTERNET IS NOT A LUXURY”

To mark ConnectHome’s launch, President Obama traveled to Durant, OK, to address community members, library staff, and tribal leaders. “The internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Obama told the assembled crowd, noting that the people who “could benefit the most from the latest technology are the least likely to have it.” ConnectHome will help not only children but adults in the households as well, he noted, who may use it to apply for jobs, learn new skills, study for adult education courses, or start a business.

Oklahoma Department of Libraries Director Susan McVey was in attendance, and told LJ that while the initiative has great potential to reach rural community members of all ages, she hopes that community partners will work closely with libraries to ensure that all participants’ information needs are met. “They mentioned at the [press conference]…that Best Buy technicians or staff would be involved. I’m not sure that those individuals have experience…helping people with the type of transactions that some of our libraries do.” While she knows that the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center and Library in Durant will be working to support ConnectHome, she is unsure where else it will be implemented. “There undoubtedly will be some areas that, because of their rural nature, may not have a library at all, or what’s available would be in a school,” she explained.

However, overall the community was pleased and receptive to the plan. “I think it’s wonderful that the president made such a commitment by coming to a very remote location to emphasize [the importance of] everybody being involved and having the ability, at their home, to get information, McVey told LJ. “There was a tremendous spirit at the event. It meant so much. Many tribal elders were there and felt very connected to the president and very honored by his comments.”

Earmarking funds for connectivity now, Obama stated, is an investment in the country’s future. “These investments are the right thing to do for our communities,” he said. “They’re the smart thing to do for the national economy.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. I hope it happens soon. Before school starts again. My daughter couldn’t get her homework assignments done through middle school and is going into high school now and her sister will be in the same boat soon enough . I can’t afford Internet, I can barely pay rent and utilities.

  2. Shonda Brisco says:

    There will need to be MUCH more involvement by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association to ensure that school and public librarians are involved in the training needed by those students (and adults) who are involved with ConnectHome. While the Choctaw Nation should be commended for their work toward being selected as one of pilot programs to implement the broadband initiative, the absence of any “library presence” within the program simply mirrors much of what is happening throughout the state of Oklahoma. School librarian positions have been cut every year since 2010, reading scores continue to drop (especially in rural areas–which can be found in any direction outside of a 75 mile radius from Oklahoma City or Tulsa), and funding for those school libraries that continue to limp along is non-existent. Broadband and Internet access is important–and instruction in the use of the Internet and online databases should be taught to our students by certified school librarians–but until those who should be supporting K-12 school libraries and librarians are willing to step forward to advocate for our students and rural school districts without libraries or librarians, Oklahoma will continue to watch groups like Best-Buy step-up to provide “instruction” instead. Don’t be fooled– Oklahoma is NOT “library-friendly” and does not support K-12 school libraries or librarians.