Low Cost Internet For Low Income Families - Dear OET: Our students and families do not have a reliable way to go online; How can we help?
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Low Cost Internet For Low Income Families
We have students and families who do not have access to reliable home internet services. As we move into the implementation of distance learning, we consider some immediate actions we can take to connect these students. We know that many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-cost Internet plans to eligible families, and we have heard that many ISPs have temporary offers during the current crisis. What should we know about cheap internet plans and how can we help connect families with these offers?
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Until now, most, if not all, public school districts have had to consider making a quick transition to distance learning. Although there are many considerations that must be taken into account during this process, helping to ensure that all students and families have reliable access to the Internet is probably at or near the top of most school leaders' minds. Because every community has a variety of needs, we identified four strategies that districts can implement to bridge communication gaps. We also highlight some of the limitations of low-cost internet programs to keep in mind.
Before the current crisis, many ISPs offered many low-cost Internet programs for low-income families. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have updated their low-cost software to help students, teachers and families stay connected. Individuals from low-income backgrounds are now eligible for additional limited-time offers on Internet services and devices, such as two months of free service, increased speed, and removed data restrictions. You can find an updated list of some free and low-cost internet plans on the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) website. Families and school staff may wish to contact local service providers for the latest information on these offers. It is important to ensure that families and school staff are aware of all the terms of the offers so that no one is surprised after a limited time offer has expired.
The FCC's Lifeline program offers qualified low-income subscribers up to $9.25 per month for a home Internet, home phone or cell phone plan. Please note that households receive a Lifeline discount on a wired or wireless line service, but may not receive a discount on both services at the same time. FCC rules also limit Lifeline to one subscription per household, but there are cases where multiple subscribers share the same residential address while still being considered an independent economic household (for example, multiple subscribers living in a shelter may live at the same address subscribe ).
Some of Lifeline's low-cost Internet support programs are designed to cover most or all of your service costs. Customers bundling Lifeline Support with another low-cost offer should check eligibility with their service provider.
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To make sure students and families know about these low-cost offers, schools and school districts can share information about local options through their websites and other school communication channels. For example, the Rhode Island Department of Education has created a COVID-19 internet connection guide for families that details what each local ISP and cell phone operator is doing to help people get online. Similarly, the Georgia Bureau of Broadband has created a COVID-19 resource page with a map of public WiFi locations and information about mobile Internet offerings. Other state education agencies may provide similar information.
Some families may have inadequate coverage in their communities, so it is important to investigate the availability of recommended programs for families. Families can quickly determine their eligibility for low-cost Internet service options by using the EveryoneOn search tool. The database can be accessed by entering a home's zip code and selecting circumstances that apply, such as eligibility for public assistance programs or having a student at home. After selecting all that apply, the tool will populate all applicable internet and device offers for the family.
To help mitigate some of the limitations described above, school districts may choose to explore whether they can cover the monthly cost of low-cost Internet programs for eligible families. Families can contact their school districts to see if this coverage is offered or can be considered.
The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and the Portland Public Schools (PPS) plan to cover the monthly cost of a locally available low-cost Internet program for eligible families. The counties will distribute promotional codes to families that can be used to sign up for free service directly with the company. SFUSD set aside $1 million from a public fund to cover costs for one year, while the Portland Public Schools Nonprofit Fund paid for 4 months of service to 2,000 PPS families. More information about these two initiatives can be found here.
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Many districts have set up support hotlines to help students and families with questions and concerns related to COVID. Hotlines are an excellent option for community members with little or no Internet access, and they can also help families sign up for low-cost programs. Here are some examples of how hotlines are used:
If you are considering setting up a hotline, consider posting hotline phone numbers to families via calls or text messages and also posting them on websites to ensure they reach those who are unconnected.
It is important to note that many low-cost online programs have application requirements that may present challenges for some families. These may include:
In response to the current crisis, many low-cost Internet programs are waiving temporary caps (or caps) on data usage that can limit students' ability to fully participate in online learning—especially in households with many children accessing online content. need Typically, when a family uses their allotted data, speeds can slow down unless an additional fee is paid to top up. Some ISPs are also temporarily waiving the requirement that households have no outstanding debt with the service provider, which could be a barrier for low-income families. Finally, many ISPs also offer the service temporarily for free for a limited time (for example, the first 60 days are free). Families should review these offers carefully to avoid any surprises.
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When recommending low-cost Internet programs as part of a distance learning strategy, it's important to understand what the monthly payments will look like when existing free or low-cost offers expire and to make sure families are aware of these potential expenses.
School districts across the country are finding creative ways to keep students learning, despite unequal access to affordable, high-speed Internet. As a trusted source of information and resources for students and families, school districts have the opportunity to create awareness about free and low-cost Internet options.
Internet access at home for all students is essential to avoid widening the opportunity gap. The strategies outlined above can be stepping stones to ensure families stay connected during the current crisis, but it's also important that schools and districts consider identifying long-term, sustainable connectivity solutions.
We plan to highlight additional solutions (immediate and long-term) in upcoming posts, so drop us a note at [email protected].
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In response to school graduation and distance learning measures, this series shares questions for reflection, highlights promising solutions, and describes effective practices. Each week will focus on a new topic for families, teachers, educators and system leaders.
The Office of Education Technology (OET) provides leadership to maximize the contribution of technology to improving education at all levels. High-speed Internet is a basic necessity, and both public and private organizations are working to expand access. This has made it possible for many people in the United States to get free broadband Internet through the Affordable Connection Program and other public and private programs.
Who Is Eligible For Free Or Cheap High Speed Internet?
People in the United States suffer from unequal access to the Internet, an issue that is more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you do if you can't get good speed where you live? What if you can't afford any of the service providers in your area? What if there are no major ISPs that provide service where you live?
The long-term Internet infrastructure solutions to these problems are complex. However, there are several ways to get the internet completely free
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