Connectivity @ Home
Opportunities to Support Closing the Digital Divide in Rhode Island, August 20, 2021
Overview of the Digital Divide
Studies have demonstrated that students are at a major disadvantage in their learning if they do not have access to reliable high-speed internet and a home computer. According to national research, as many as 17 million children do not have access to high-speed internet at home, and over 7 million lack access to a home computer. While Rhode Island is better positioned than many states, we still have thousands of families without access to high-speed internet and/or reliable home computers.
The Role of LEAs in Closing the Digital Divide
Throughout the pandemic, LEAs across Rhode Island have undertaken many efforts to close the digital divide including providing students with hotspots for internet access and laptops for home learning. We believe these efforts have been effective and should continue for the coming school year. As noted in the Back 2 School plan, you should be determining if you have a sufficient supply of functioning devices (e.g., iPads, Chromebooks, and Desktops) and hotspots so that you can take additional measures to increase your supply if needed.
Overview of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program is a Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) program that provides a $50 per month discount on either a wireline internet plan or smartphone data plan and a $100 voucher for certain internet-connected devices to help low-income households as well as middle-class households impacted by the pandemic. You can share information on this program with families to support them in gaining free or discounted access to high-speed internet. While the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is not a permanent program, we believe that funding will continue for the foreseeable future. Eligible families may review this Rhode Island specific FAQ or sign up easily by following the links at www.GetEmergencyBroadband.org or by calling (833) 511-0311. LEAs may also benefit from reviewing this presentation regarding the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program - it is from a webinar conducted on April 28, 2021, for the benefit of consumer advocates and social service agencies with the aim of supporting groups in promoting understanding of and enrollment in the program. Families may be eligible for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program even if they have a past due balance. If you need any support in understanding or promoting access to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, please visit www.cox.com/ebb or www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit. The FCC has also produced a useful Emergency Broadband Benefit Outreach Toolkit.
Leveraging Cox’s Connect2Compete to Close the Digital Divide
Connect2Compete provides high-speed internet for $9.95 per month to qualifying families with school-age children. A family is eligible for Connect2Compete if they have one or more school-age children and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch or otherwise participate in a number of government programs including SNAP, LIHEAP, WIC, Head Start, TANF, or Public Housing. While Connect2Compete is not free, many qualifying families in Rhode Island (e.g., those qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch and others who experienced economic disruption due to the pandemic) are eligible for up to $50 per month of federal support for internet access under the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. This money can be used to pay for Connect2Compete or to subsidize a more expensive program. School systems can learn more about Cox’s affordable home internet options here or sign-up to partner with Cox here. Cox has also put together a thorough toolkit for school systems to use in outreach. The toolkit includes the resources that school systems need to conduct outreach to families including sample letters and flyers. If you need any support in coordinating with Cox or otherwise promoting access to Connect2Compete, please visit www.cox.com/partner or reach out to Rosie Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.
Discounted High-Speed Internet Access from Verizon through Fios Forward
Like Cox, Verizon also offers a discounted option for high-speed internet access for families who qualify for Lifeline, a government assistance program supported by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission and the FCC. Families who are within 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or otherwise receive government assistance should be eligible and they can confirm their eligibility and apply online at www.CheckLifeline.org or by calling the Lifeline Support Center at (800) 234-9473 between 9 am and 9 pm seven days a week. Through Lifeline, families are eligible for Verizon’s Fios Forward home internet plans which are discounted by $20 per month and available for as low as $19.99 per month. Families may be eligible to have this entire cost covered by the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. In addition to the program described above, Verizon has also launched a distance learning program through which LEAs in Rhode Island may secure discounted access to unlimited 4G LTE data mobile hotspot devices. Currently, hotspots may be purchased for as little as $60 each and monthly service is $15 per hotspot. For questions, please contact Greg Cambio at email@example.com or (401) 408-0055.
AT&T’s Efforts to Close the Homework Gap
As part of its ongoing efforts to close the homework gap, AT&T has developed a new set of service offerings for schools and school systems. Through the AT&T Special DataConnect for Education plan, school systems can secure Moxee mobile hotspots with 50 GB of high-speed data per month for as little as $11 per month. For questions, please contact Michael Arrington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (443) 794-2456 or Mary Ann Argy at email@example.com or (617) 510-6332.
Discounted High-Speed Internet Access from T-Mobile through Project 10Million
Through Project 10Million, T-Mobile offers eligible school systems discounted access to regular high-speed internet plans (100 GB of data per month) as well as free hotspots and access to free limited data plans (100 GB of data per year). LEAs may apply on behalf of their students and are eligible to receive a free hotspot for each household qualifying for the National School Lunch Program (i.e., free or reduced-price lunch). Through this program, T-Mobile also makes available discounted access to laptops and tablets. LEAs interested in learning more or signing up should contact Ryan Lopes at Ryan.Lopes1@t-mobile.com or (617) 564-1313.