ConnectHome Aims to Bring Broadband to 275,000 Low-Income Homes

"ConnectHome," a public-private project to put high-speed Internet access into 275,000 low-income households, will include the participation of Cox Communications in four cities, Google Fiber in four cities and CenturyLink in Seattle.

Collectively, the broadband effort to close the digital divide will bring high-speed access to 28 communities, including the Choctaw Tribal Nation in Oklahoma, where President Obama unveiled the ConnectHome plan on Wednesday (July 15) and where Suddenlink Communications, along with Pine Tree Telephone, Cherokee Communications and Vyve Broadband will collaborate to deliver broadband to the Choctaw community's 425 public housing residents.

Urban areas where ConnectHome , which is being overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be launched in public housing venues include New York; Boston; Seattle; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Cleveland; Kansas City; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; and Washington, D.C.

ConnectHome augments the Obama administration's "ConnectED" initiative, which commits government funding to bring broadband to 99% of students in schools within five years. The White House acknowledged that "too many lower-income children go unplugged every afternoon when school ends" since their homes do not have high-speed access as do the homes of middle-class students. It also supplements the FCC's June plan to permit qualifying households to use their monthly $9.25 "Lifeline" communications subsidy for broadband rather than phone service.

Fewer than half of homes below the $25,000 annual income level have broadband access now, Obama said. About 200,000 children live in the homes that will get broadband access for fees as low $10 per month under the ConnectHome plan.

Cox cable systems in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; Macon, Ga.; and Meriden, Conn., will support the program by extending its Connect2Compete home Internet service offer for $9.95 per month to eligible families with K-12 children.  Cox noted that it offers a similar rate in all 18 states where it operates to "all families who qualify for free lunch programs."  

Overall, private-sector companies are expected to commit $70 million to ConnectHome, including contributions from Best Buy (which is offering free computer training and technical support in selected cities); the James M. Cox Foundation, affiliated with Cox Communications (which will make 1,500 tablets available for $30 each to participating students in Macon, Ga.) and The Public Broadcasting Service (which will produce and distribute digital literacy content).

In some cities, local groups will underwrite the program, according to HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who provided details about the program. He confirmed that the 27 local governments in the initial ConnectHome communities will not be required to pay for the program. The only federal contribution is $50,000 that the U.S. Agriculture Department is paying for broadband equipment in the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Google Fiber will offer the service for free to residents in selected public housing authority properties in Atlanta, Kansas City, Nashville and Durham, N.C. 

In a statement, Google said it plans to "extend the program to every other current future Google Fiber market." It said that the program was "inspired by our work with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA)"

"At Manchaca Village, the first public housing property we engaged, over 90% of residents signed up for service, and more than half of the residents completed digital literacy training," Google said. "With support from local organizations and city leaders, we hope to see this same kind of success across the country."

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel applauded the project, citing the need to move beyond broadband access in schools.

"Today approximately 7 in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access," Rosenworcel said. "Kids may be connected in the classroom, but if they are disconnected at home, getting basic schoolwork done is hard. This Homework Gap is the cruelest part of our new digital divide. We need to bridge this gap and fix this problem because our shared economic future depends on it. The ConnectHome initiative is a step in the right direction.”

HUD is collaborating with EveryoneOn and US Ignite, who worked with private- and public-sector groups to create the partnerships.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.