Finding a Way to Get Online Connections for Children in Low-Income Housing

A new government effort aims to provide a home Internet connection to more than 200,000 children

Twenty-eight communities will launch new programs to provide low-income students with home Internet access, as well as mobile devices and educational software – but it’s not clear how many children will benefit.

The initiative, dubbed ConnectHome, was announced Wednesday in Oklahoma by officials of the White House and of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The idea is simple: Provide free or low-cost broadband service to families in public housing projects, so that children there can connect to the Internet to tap educational resources. But making it work on the ground isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Efforts by schools to provide children with Internet connections at home have proven to be challenging, with difficulties in enrolling families, in keeping up maintenance of the connections and in making sure Internet speeds are fast enough to be useful. A story in The Hechinger Report, Getting kids online at home is key to closing the digital divide — and harder than you might think,” documented efforts by a school district in Washington that attempted to provide an online connection to students in a low-income housing project.

The pilot program announced Wednesday by the federal housing authority is described as a “proof of concept” program, to test the effectiveness of the initiative. The program is expected to reach about 275,000 households and nearly 200,000 children, according to the announcement from H.U.D. About $70 million in investments from nonprofit organizations and businesses are expected to help make it work. These partners signed on to provide resources such as tablet computers, Internet connections and on-site staff to facilitate use of these digital tools for educational purposes.

Some of the programs for home Internet access are not new; several low-cost Internet access plans listed in the announcement, for instance, are already available. These types of programs have restrictions – such as requirements that families do not have existing service or past-due bills – that can make it difficult for disadvantaged people to obtain a connection with the special price (typically $9.95 a month).

The program offerings vary by location. Some cities, such as Atlanta, Durham, N.C., Kansas City and Nashville, will provide free Internet access to “select” housing agencies. Others, such as New Orleans, Seattle and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, will be provided with low-cost Internet connections.

The agency did not say how many of the 28 communities will receive free Internet access and how many will get low-cost access. Materials distributed about the program gave examples of how it would work, but not details on what each city would offer. A spokeswoman said she could not answer those questions completely on Wednesday.

The communities invited to take part in the program were selected through a competitive application process announced earlier this year. They are: Albany, Georgia; Atlanta; Baltimore; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Boston; Camden, New Jersey; Choctaw Nation, Oklahoma; Cleveland; Denver; Durham, North Carolina; Fresno, California; Kansas City, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Los Angeles; Macon, Georgia; Memphis; Meriden, Connecticut; Nashville; New Orleans; New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Rockford, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle; Springfield, Massachusetts; Tampa, and Washington, D.C.

[The Hechinger Report]

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.