Home Advocacy How to Access Free Internet and Shrink the Digital Divide

How to Access Free Internet and Shrink the Digital Divide

by Steve Campion
Image with quote "When it comes to shrinking the digital divide, it will take a holistic approach."

If the present is digital, the future is even more digital. That’s especially true in the classroom. Technology is increasingly intertwined with education. This is precisely why shrinking the digital divide is more important than ever. There are two issues to be recognized by educators that are at the center of the divide – access and adoption. Addressing these issues is key to expanding educational opportunities and unlocking a future of unlimited possibilities, especially among underserved communities. 

A photo of a classroom full of students holding Project Up boxes

Expanding Internet Access 

Let’s talk about access. A wired broadband connection is the most reliable. With the assistance of the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and coupled with Comcast’s Internet Essentials, the Internet is now free for millions of families. Teachers can help spread awareness among parents and students about the program. ACP provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. The eligibility criteria are expansive. You are also eligible if your income is 200% or less than the Federal Poverty Guideline, or if a member of the household meets at least one of the following criteria. 

  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year 
  • Participates in Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, including at USDA Community Eligibility Provision schools. 
  • SNAP 
  • Medicaid 
  • Federal Houston Assistance 
  • SSI

You can find a full list here. 

KPRC2 News took an up-close look at the digital divide in southeast Texas. Watch here. 👇 

Expanding Internet Adoption 

The issue of adoption may prove tricky for educators. Families need to embrace and learn digital skills to enhance children’s educational experience and expand opportunities. A recent Boston Consulting Group study, supported by Comcast, revealed a human approach is needed to shrink the digital divide. People need knowledgeable individuals to help them walk through the basics – like setting up emails, writing documents, and accessing online resources. The study found those tech experts, now known as digital navigators, are critical in reducing socioeconomic inequalities by helping more people get online. 

  • More than 65 percent of respondents said digital navigators helped them gain access to Internet service or a computer or tablet at home – among Hispanic and Black Americans, the number increased to 72 percent; 
  • More than 85 percent of respondents said that after working with digital navigators, they used the Internet more frequently; 
  • Nearly half of respondents said they were able to get better healthcare; 
  • Forty percent said they were able to get support for basic needs, including food, rent and housing; and 
  • One in three found a new job or earned a higher income after working with digital navigators. 

In a community like Houston, the non-profit SERJobs partnered with Comcast and the city to launch a digital navigators program. The program places trusted tech experts in four of Houston’s most historically under-resourced neighborhoods, allowing anyone one-on-one training free of charge. Other communities have similar programs which educators can use to supplement their efforts.

When it comes to shrinking the digital divide, it will take a holistic approach. No one knows that better than Texas teachers.  

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