Digital Divide – Minnesota

Digital divide lingers in Minnesota, nationally, By Jeff Hargarten, September 20, 2017, Star Tribune: “Digital gaps still divide Minnesota and the nation along racial, economic and geographic lines, even as high-speed Internet becomes more widespread and indispensible to people’s lives. Nationally, about 77 percent of Americans have a high-speed internet connection, served up via broadband networks either on their home computers, tablets, phones or other devices, according to 2015 data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey…”

Technology and SNAP Beneficiaries

Startups are finally taking on food stamps, By Tonya Riley, September 6, 2017, Wired: “Felicia Graybill uses her smartphone for everything: sending email, checking Facebook, and even monitoring her bank account. But for years, when the 28-year-old Brooklyn mom went to check on her food stamps benefits she might as well have been using a landline. Reviewing her balance required dialing into a hotline and entering her entire card number. All she could access was the sum of her funds—there was no way of breaking down how and when she’d spent the money…”

Lifeline Program

This low-cost phone and Internet program wastes millions in federal funding, auditors say, By Brian Fung, June 29, 2017, Washington Post: “A federal program designed to help millions of low-income Americans afford phone and Internet service is riddled with fraud and abuse, with at least $137 million a year going to ineligible, fake or dead people, according to government auditors. The explosive report Thursday from the Government Accountability Office shows that despite efforts to rein in abuse of the sprawling Lifeline program, which serves 12.3 million subscribers on Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits, many recipients of the $9.25-a-month credit are violating program rules…”

Lifeline Program and Internet Access

FCC to halt expansion of broadband subsidies for poor people, By Jon Brodkin, March 29, 2017, Ars Technica: “The Federal Communications Commission is dropping its legal defense of a new system for expanding broadband subsidies for poor people, and it will not approve applications from companies that want to offer the low-income broadband service. The decision announced today by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would halt implementation of last year’s expansion of the Lifeline program. This 32-year-old program gives poor people $9.25 a month toward communications services, and it was changed last year to support broadband in addition to phone service…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

Food stamp recipients will soon be able to order groceries online, By Maura Judkis, January 10, 2017, Washington Post: “Beginning this summer, some Americans who receive food assistance will have a new way to feed their families. The Agriculture Department said that it will test a program that allows people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, known as food stamps — to order groceries online through various retailers. The ability to shop online could bring healthful food into food deserts, low-income areas where fresh food is not readily available…”

Mobile Banking

  • Dial M for money: Can mobile banking lift people out of poverty?, By Nurith Aizenman, December 9, 2016, National Public Radio: “If you live in Kenya there’s a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot.   ‘Things are now modern!’ they sing. ‘Things are now developed.’ It’s an ad for a type of banking service called M-PESA that’s run entirely through your mobile phone. You set up an account with the phone company. You can send and receive funds by text. Or, if you need to make a cash deposit or withdrawal, you do it through a vast network of agents — small-time vendors in kiosks and shops, for example, that the company has set up…”
  • Here’s why mobile money is dramatically reducing poverty in Kenya, By Robert Gebelhoff, December 22, 2016, Washington Post: “For Tavneet Suri, an economics professor at MIT who grew up in Kenya, much has changed in her home country over the past decade. What used to be an economy relatively closed off to the rest of the world is now a one where the vast majority of people are paying bills and sharing money with one another through cellphones…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Tech companies expect free high-speed internet for poorer Americans to pay off later, By Cecilia Kang, October 11, 2016, New York Times: “There is an axiom in technology: New products typically go to wealthy customers first, before prices eventually fall to reach the masses.  With broadband now classified like a utility, telecom and tech companies, including Sprint, Comcast and Facebook, are increasingly working to make high-speed internet accessible to every American, not just a luxury. The companies are among those that have set their sights on bringing free or cheap high-speed internet service to low-income and rural populations in the United States, spurred by philanthropy and, for some, the hope of turning Americans who are not online today into full-paying customers in the future…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

  • Why SNAP benefits could be going digital, By Christina Beck, September 15, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Online shopping has long been a boon for most Americans, whether they hate the scrutinizing stares of fellow shoppers, the chaos of big stores, or simply can’t get out the door. Soon, modifications to the federal food stamp program, SNAP, might make the benefits of online shopping available to some who could need it most: the many recipients who live in areas where there are fewer healthy grocery stores, known as ‘food deserts…'”
  • Federal food stamp program to test online shopping for recipients, By Greg Trotter, September 15, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “Starting next summer, Illinois residents on food stamps may be able to buy their groceries online through a two-year federal pilot program intended to increase food access for the poor.  Times, they are a’changin’, though faster for some than others. Online shopping has dramatically altered buying habits for most Americans in recent years, and now, the $75 billion federal food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is moving toward making that option available to the 43 million or so people across the country receiving benefits…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Comcast expands Internet access to more low-income families, By Pam Adams, July 15, 2016, Peoria Journal Star: “More low-income households, including veterans, senior citizens and adults without children, will have access to low-cost internet service from Comcast.  The country’s largest cable provider is expanding Internet Essentials to all housing programs in its service areas that receive funds for from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program originally was developed in 2011 to provide low-cost internet service for families of grade school and high school students who met eligibility guidelines for the federal free lunch program…”

Internet Access and Unemployment – Detroit, MI

Unemployed Detroit residents are trapped by a digital divide, By Cecilia Kang, May 22, 2016, New York Times: “In downtown Detroit, start-ups and luxury retailers are opening up and new office buildings are being built as the city works to recover from its deep economic problems. Six miles to the north, in the neighborhood of Hope Village, residents like Eric Hill are trying to participate in that progress but are running into hurdles. His difficulties were apparent on a recent Tuesday when he entered a crowded public library to use the computers to look for a new job. With no Internet service at home or on his mobile phone, Mr. Hill had few options to search work listings or file online job applications after losing his stocking job at a pharmacy five months ago…”

Internet Access for Low-Income Families

This city is giving super-fast internet to poor students, By Heather Kelly, May 10, 2016, CNN Money: “Around 5 million homes with school-age children don’t have high speed internet, according to the Pew Research Center. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 22.5% of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 25,000 kids are on the public school system’s free and reduced lunch program. Chattanooga is trying to close its ‘homework gap’ with a pair of programs that help low-income families get online…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Why Comcast is expanding its low-cost Internet program to public housing, By Max Lewontin, March 25, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Comcast is partnering with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand its “Internet Essentials” program to public housing residents in Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; and Philadelphia, the company announced on Thursday. The program, which costs $9.95 per month, offers low-income families high-speed Internet service up to 10 megabits per second, a free Wi-Fi router, access to free digital literacy training, and the option to purchase a computer for less than $150…”
  • Comcast expands low-cost Internet to all Miami-Dade public housing, By Nancy Dahlberg, March 24, 2016, Miami Herald: “Karisha Bailey is a self-employed chef who uses her smartphone constantly in her work. She’s also the single mom of four young children who need that same smartphone for their homework. Sharing the phone and keeping data charges manageable is a constant challenge. This week, Bailey became one of the first residents of the Rainbow Village public housing development to receive a free laptop and six months of complimentary high-speed Internet access. After that, her family will be able to continue on the program for $9.95 a month…” 

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Bridging a digital divide that leaves schoolchildren behind, By Cecilia Kang, February 22, 2016, New York Times: “At 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, Isabella and Tony Ruiz were standing in their usual homework spot, on a crumbling sidewalk across the street from the elementary school nearest to their home. ‘I got it. I’m going to download,’ Isabella said to her brother Tony as they connected to the school’s wireless hot spot and watched her teacher’s math guide slowly appear on the cracked screen of the family smartphone. Isabella, 11, and Tony, 12, were outside the school because they have no Internet service at home — and connectivity is getting harder. With their mother, Maria, out of work for months and money coming only from their father, Isaias, who washes dishes, the family had cut back on almost everything, including their cellphone data plan. So every weeknight, the siblings stood outside the low-slung school, sometimes for hours, to complete homework for the sixth grade…”
  • F.C.C. fine-tunes plan to subsidize internet access, By Cecilia Kang, March 8, 2016, New York Times: “People who do not have regular access to the Internet can fall behind in school, at work and in other everyday tasks. The Federal Communications Commission is close to what it hopes will be a solution to address that gap: $9.25 a month. The agency on Tuesday will circulate a final proposal to F.C.C. members to approve a broadband subsidy of $9.25 a month for low-income households, in the government’s boldest effort to date to narrow a technological divide that has emerged between those who have web access and those who do not. While more than 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, just 48 percent of those making less than $25,000 can afford the service, the F.C.C.’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, has said…”

Phone Rates for Prison Inmates

FCC votes to further cut cost of calls for inmates, By Heather Hollingsworth (AP), October 22, 2015, Washington Post: “The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to take additional steps to slash how much can be charged for phone calls made from jails and prisons was hailed as removing a burden on families and criticized as a budget buster for some facilities.  FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said before the vote in Washington that the cost of the calls have placed ‘incredible burdens’ on the families of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S…”

Lifeline Program and Internet Access

The FCC wants to help America’s poorest pay for Internet, By Brian Fung, June 18, 2015, Washington Post: “Major upgrades are coming to a federal aid program that helps low-income Americans connect to basic communications services.  The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to consider how to allow eligible Americans to purchase Internet access using government funds, in a move that recognizes high-speed Internet as a key to pulling the poor out of poverty. The decision highlights the FCC’s fast-growing role in regulating broadband. In a 3-2 vote, the agency opened a process to expand its Lifeline program — a Reagan-era plan that gives $9.25 per month to Americans who meet income requirements or who already receive some form of federal assistance…”

Internet Access for the Homeless

Fighting homelessness, one smartphone at a time, By Claire Cain Miller, April 14, 2015, New York Times: “Holly Leonard has been homeless on and off for years. There was a stint in jail and, more recently, a period in a women’s homeless shelter, while her husband slept in their car. But last month, the two moved into a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, Calif., complete with a small garden. Ms. Leonard found it on Craigslist while using her Nexus 5 smartphone — a donation from Google that she got from a San Jose nonprofit called Community Technology Alliance…”

Students and Internet Access

With no Internet at home, Miami-Dade kids crowd libraries for online homework, By Douglas Hanks, October 12, 2014, Miami Herald: “Once again, Christina Morua found herself in the South Dade library longer than she would like on a school night. The 28-year-old single mom sat in the bustling children’s section on a recent Thursday, waiting for her fourth-grader to get on a computer and start some online math homework. ‘We don’t have any Internet at home,’ Morua said as her oldest, 11-year-old Abel, clicked through an assignment on a library laptop while Alina, 9, waited for her turn at a desktop. ‘We just reserved a computer. We have to wait 70 minutes. He got one of the last laptops.’ With more school materials heading online, parents like Morua find they can no longer count on home for homework. That leaves Miami-Dade libraries as a crucial venue for their youngest patrons, but funding challenges, reduced hours on school nights and aging equipment have made it harder to meet the demand…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Mixed response to Comcast in expanding net access, By Amy Chozick, January 20, 2013, New York Times: “At the cramped downtown office of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, a line of older residents waited to apply for a federal program that helps pay for heat and other utilities. On the walls, next to posters advertising Head Start and other public services, hung posters for something called Internet Essentials. ‘Is the Internet on your back to school list?’ read one leaflet being handed out along with information about the Women, Infants and Children program, a Health Department initiative that offers nutritional and breast-feeding support to low-income families. Internet Essentials is not a government program, although that would be difficult to tell from the poster. Instead, it is a two-year-old program run by Comcast, the country’s largest Internet and cable provider, meant to bring affordable broadband to low-income homes…”

Low-income Students and Internet Access

Many low-income students struggle with lack of Internet at home, By Walter Pacheco, March 18, 2012, Orlando Sentinel: “Every time 15-year-old Eduardo Pérez is assigned an online project at school, he and his mother scramble to a family member’s home, library or Wi-Fi hot spot because they can’t afford Internet access at home. The Lee Middle School eighth-grader often depends on his 4G smartphone to do research, but the 4-inch screen is a strain on his eyes. Computer labs at public libraries fill quickly, and finding a nearby Wi-Fi-enabled café in the low-income area of west Orlando’s Lake Mann Estates is a challenge. ‘It can be difficult for me. Sometimes I go to the school library before classes or try to do my homework and projects at school before coming home because it’s easier,’ Eduardo said. His mother, Nasta Echevarría, who is single and unemployed, said the cost of having Internet at home was too much for her. The obstacles encountered by low-income Central Florida students and their families without Internet access likely will worsen as schools start to provide their students with Wi-Fi-enabled devices for online assignments, homework and to connect with teachers and other students…”