Free WiFi in apartment buildings helps bridge the digital divide


EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit formed to bring high-speed Internet access to American classrooms, has announced a new campaign to bring 18 million American homes online – and it plans to do so by rolling out free WiFi networks in apartment buildings.

The challenge: High-speed internet access is extremely important to modern life – we depend on it for jobs, education, pandemic news, entertainment, and more. It means that people with Fast internet has many advantages over those without.

President Joe Biden has said he wants to bridge this digital divide, ensuring that “every American has access to high-quality, affordable and high-speed internet” – and money for that vision. is available.

Over 80% of Americans eligible for free or subsidized Internet programs have not signed up.

The $ 3.2 billion emergency broadband allocation, which offers Internet discounts as needed, went into effect in May, and the recently passed infrastructure bill dedicates 42.5 billion dollars to new broadband networks and $ 2.75 billion to increased broadband adoption.

These funds join a litany of other local, state and federal programs designed to subsidize Internet access for those with less means.

Yet 28 million American homes still do not have internet access, and two-thirds of those homes live in places where the infrastructure to connect is already in place – residents simply cannot afford to. to log in.

Free WIFI: On November 4, the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway launched No Home Left Offline, a campaign (backed by $ 16 million in private funding) to connect these homes.

According to the nonprofit, 83% of Americans eligible for free or subsidized internet programs didn’t sign up because they didn’t know about the programs, didn’t trust them, or encountered other obstacles, such as that confusion during the registration process. .

“Many low-income Americans struggle with the cost of long wait times, complex terms and conditions, language barriers, or navigating eligibility and registration information,” said the CEO of EducationSuperHighway, Evan Marwell, at Hey SoCal.

“For older Americans and those who rent out their homes, concerns about the installation process can also influence the decision to apply,” he continued.

This decision alone would close 20% of the digital divide in the United States.

Working with community organizations to identify and enroll qualified Americans will be one of the main businesses of No Home Left Offline. The other will deploy free Wi-Fi networks in social housing buildings.

It would be easier than getting people to sign up for government programs, and enough people without internet access are living in apartments for this move alone to reduce 20% of the digital divide in the United States.

“As the federal government pays the money, we know the biggest problem is adoption – getting people to sign up for these grant programs,” Marwell told Axios.

“There are no adoption issues in hotel lobbies or libraries – everyone knows if you have a device, check out the free WiFi network and you’re connected, right?” He continued. “So we said, ‘What if we could apply this approach to where people live? “”

The monthly cost is $ 200 to $ 500 per building, and the owners were happy to foot the bill.

The model: EducationSuperHighway already has a plan for its apartment WiFi program to work – in early 2020, it began working with the City of Oakland, Calif., To bring free WiFi to residents of five low-income apartment buildings .

The monthly cost of networks (which the campaign says has been widely adopted and praised by residents) is $ 200 to $ 500 per building, and homeowners have footed the bill because they see free WiFi as a way to build customer loyalty. existing tenants and attract new ones. .

The couple now plan to expand the program to 127 apartment buildings in Oakland, using the grants to bring the monthly cost to homeowners down to $ 100 per building.

Looking forward: Some homeowners might not be able to afford to pay for free Wi-Fi (or want to pay for it), and Maxwell told Axios that rolling out free Wi-Fi in some older buildings can be difficult. .

Still, the group will give it a try, starting with three to five cities before expanding to others in the future – and between that and its adoption programs, they hope to significantly reduce America’s digital divide.

“Before the pandemic, we talked a lot about the digital divide but we really didn’t do anything about it,” Marwell said. “The pandemic has changed him. If we don’t take this opportunity to really make progress now, I don’t know when we will one day.

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