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No Home Left Offline

EducationSuperHighway Sets Sights on Household Broadband Gap

Nonprofit EducationSuperHighway is shifting its attention away from the needs of K-12 internet connectivity and to the unconnected American household.

The organization, which helped close down the "classroom connectivity gap," has a new mission: to make sure the 18.1 million households that can't afford to connect to broadband get it.

The name of the new campaign is "No Home Left Offline." A report just issued by the organization asserted that there are 28.2 million unconnected households. About a quarter -- 7.1 million -- don't have access to broadband, primarily because they're in rural areas that lack it; another three million choose not to connect. That leaves 18.1 million who would use broadband if they could afford it.

This digital divide is concentrated primarily in the poorest communities and disproportionately affects Black and Latinx Americans, the report noted.

While federal broadband affordability programs abound, EducationSuperHighway estimated just few people eligible for them have taken advantage. For example, before the pandemic less than a quarter of eligible Americans (24%) enrolled in the Lifeline Program. And as of October 2021, just 16.4% of those eligible have participated in the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program.

The obstacles standing in the way are threefold:

  • Lack of awareness: People are unaware of how EBB could help them get connected. A national survey among low- and lower-middle income households found that just 25% had heard of the program.

  • Lack of trust: Families are concerned about sharing their personal information during the sign-up process and are "skeptical" that EBB would really cover the costs.

  • Enrollment barriers: Signing up for EBB can be "confusing," requiring people to provide documentation about their incomes, for example, which "many cannot easily access."

Overcoming those hurdles will require a multi-pronged effort involving public-private partnerships among state and local government, internet service providers, nonprofits, community organizations and companies, the report stated.

The blueprint suggested by the organization consists of four phases:

1. Developing "innovative marketing approaches" to make people aware of the federal broadband programs;

2. Using data to identify households that aren't connected;

3. Using "trusted organizations" to reach out to those households and provide help in getting families enrolled; and

4. Allowing low-income apartment owners to combine federal broadband benefit resources for their tenants to provide free Wi-Fi throughout their buildings.

Those last two steps are getting some extra emphasis by EducationSuperHighway. The organization is working with the city of Oakland and a group of community organizations to launch a free apartment Wi-Fi program. The partnership will deploy free Wi-Fi in low-income apartment buildings and establish a broadband adoption center to help eligible households enroll in a subsidized program.

Said EducationSuperHighway CEO Evan Marwell: "We must seize this moment to accelerate progress in closing the digital divide. That's why today we are launching a bold new mission to tackle the broadband affordability gap — which has emerged as the number one barrier to closing the digital divide. Congress is stepping up, making resources available to close the affordability gap, and ISPs continue to increase the availability and speed of affordable broadband plans. We must now remove the barriers that keep low-income families from connecting or risk wasting this opportunity to ensure no home is left offline."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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