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Although all major providers signed the Keep Americans Connected pledge at the beginning of the pandemic- a pledge that ensured ISPs would help keep Americans connected to the internet throughout the pandemic- some providers have done more than others to help Americans during this time.
Internet providers can address the digital divide in a range of ways. Although when most people think of the digital divide, they think of issues of accessibility (internet deserts in rural areas) and affordability (the high-cost of internet service), there are other important issues that need to be addressed as well before we can achieve true universal access.
For instance, many ISPs are placing a heavy focus on connecting disadvantaged students to the internet and helping them access educational resources online so they don’t fall behind in school. Ensuring all students are able to learn remotely and complete their assignments online has been a particularly big struggle throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most funding for the digital divide will come from the state and federal governments. For instance, every state is currently investing in broadband access to some degree and the federal government is now offering $50/mo. internet subsidies through the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit. However, ISPs can play a crucial role as well. We explore what the major internet providers are doing to address the digital divide when it comes to internet subsidization, broadband deployment and educational opportunities
Altice Advantage Internet with Optimum and Suddenlink
Altice offers the discounted internet plan Altice Advantage Internet. Through either Optimum or Suddenlink, qualifying families can receive up to 30 Mbps for two months free and then $14.99/mo. afterward. Households can qualify for Altice Advantage Internet if it contains a student living at home who is in need of internet access due to COVID-19, a senior who qualifies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or a veteran who receives public assistance.
In addition to discounted internet, Altice is also deploying fiber optic infrastructure throughout the country in order to get Americans living in more rural areas connected to the internet. For instance, Altice ended 2020 with having connected nearly one million homes to fiber internet. Additionally, according to Dexter Goei, CEO of Altice, Altice will spend between $1.3 and $1.4 billion in 2021 deploying more broadband infrastructure.
AT&T is likely the ISP doing the most to address the digital divide. AT&T announced in April 2021 that it would be investing $2 billion over the next three years to help bridge the digital divide. This money will go towards discounted internet access for low-income families and schools.
AT&T’s low-income internet service deal provides up to 25 Mbps for $10/mo. or less. There are no contracts or installation fees and AT&T also provides an in-home Wi-Fi modem free of charge. In order to qualify, participants must have at least one household member enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have a serviceable AT&T address and not have outstanding debt for AT&T fixed internet service within six months. AT&T has offered this deal for over five years.
One of AT&T’s newer initiatives is the AT&T Connected Learning program, which is centered around connectivity for students and teachers. AT&T is working to close the homework gap by investing $10 million in order to provide discounted wireless data plans and free Wi-Fi hotspots to the nearly 17 million students who lack connectivity. In addition to directly helping connect students to the internet, AT&T has also contributed over $1 million to teacher-focused organizations in the U.S. and invested in other student-related projects, such as helping students with special needs navigate online learning.
Cox offers a low-income internet option for qualifying participants through its Connect2Compete program. The plan offers up to 15 Mbps for $9.95/mo. and includes a free Wi-Fi modem and no deposits or annual contracts. In order to qualify for this plan, participants must have at least one K-12 student in their household and have at least one member of the household participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Public Housing, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Like Cox, Mediacom also offers a low-income internet plan through its Connect2Compete program. Qualifying participants can receive up to 25 Mbps for $9.95/mo. Since Connect2Compete focuses on connecting students to the internet, participants must have at least one child in the household who receives free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In order to qualify for the program, participants must also not be a current Mediacom internet customer and cannot have an outstanding bill or unreturned equipment.
Spectrum has focused its attention on expanding digital education opportunities in order to bridge the digital divide. For instance, Spectrum spent $1 million in 2020 distributing a total of 48 grants to nonprofit organizations providing broadband education, technology and training during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included teaching seniors digital skills, buying laptops for underserved communities, offering online classes for those seeking homework or job support and setting up technology labs. Spectrum plans to contribute an additional $6 million in digital divide grants over the next four years.
Similar to Spectrum, Verizon has also been particularly invested in improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. In 2012, Verizon started its Innovative Learning program. Verizon’s Innovative Learning program provides free internet access, free devices and online STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons to students. Verizon’s goal is to foster digital inclusion and provide opportunities for students to develop the technological skills needed in today’s economy. Verizon announced in 2018 that it plans to spend a total of $400 million in the program and reach an additional five million students by 2023.
Verizon is also in the process of expanding its 5G Home Internet to more areas of the U.S., including rural communities. Verizon is currently available in 31 markets and it announced in the first quarter of 2021 that it plans to offer up to 1 Gig speeds to 250 million Americans on its 5G network by 2024. This project will cost $10 billion.
Xfinity offers a low-income internet plan to qualifying households. The Xfinity Internet Essentials plan offers speeds up to 15 Mbps for $9.95/mo. and there is no credit check, no contract and no installation fee. Xfinity also includes a free in-home Wi-Fi modem and the option to purchase a low-cost computer for $149.99 plus tax. Households can qualify for Xfinity Internet Essentials if they have a child who is eligible for the National School Lunch Program, they receive HUD housing assistance, they are a community college student in Colorado or Illinois or they are a low-income veteran or senior.
The Xfinity Internet Essentials program not only offers affordable internet, but also online educational resources for students, veterans, seniors and more. For instance, Xfinity currently offers free resources for remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic for students and lessons on developing digital skills for veterans.
Written by:Ari Howard
Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team, focusing on broadband and wireless news, as well as broadband and TV provider deals. She recently graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content