The White House is kick-starting a new push to connect low-income Americans to high-speed Internet. Under the program, which is being announced Wednesday by President Obama, hundreds of thousands of families and school-age kids will get Web access and computer training. Here's everything you need to know, in a few questions.
What is this program and will it help me?
The initiative is called ConnectHome. You can think of it as Obama's attempt to address a socio-economic gap in residential Internet access, as opposed to his earlier efforts to close the digital divide in schools with an initiative called ConnectED.
This will depend on the city, but generally to take advantage of the program, you must be living in public or assisted housing. That's because the White House is announcing ConnectHome in connection with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Why target public housing residents?
The average public housing household makes $13,000 a year, according to the government. Although poorer Americans are more likely than others to use the mobile Internet, they're far less likely to have high-speed Internet access in the home. In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that roughly a third of people making less than $20,000 a year aren't online at all. Another third do use the Internet, but don't have broadband at home, according to Pew.
Where is the program being rolled out first?
The list includes, according to the White House: Albany, Ga.; Atlanta, Ga; Baltimore, Md; Baton Rouge, La.; Boston, Mass.; Camden, N.J.; Choctaw Nation, Okla.; Cleveland, OH; Denver, Colo.; Durham, N.C.; Fresno, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Memphis, Tenn.; Meriden, Conn.; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans, La.; New York, N.Y.; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia, Penn.; Rockford, Ill.; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; Springfield, Mass.; Tampa, Fla.; and Washington, D.C.
Does this mean the government will be paying for poor people's Internet service?
No. The White House is working with companies and groups like Best Buy, CenturyLink, Cox Communications, Google, PBS and Sprint to provide free or discounted high-speed broadband for eligible Americans.
For instance, CenturyLink has agreed to offer those living in Seattle public housing a $10-a-month Internet service. In Louisiana, Cox will sell a similarly priced service to low-income families with K-12 schoolchildren. And Google Fiber has previously committed to offering free broadband to people in public housing in the markets where it operates.
What's this about computer training?
A number of high-profile groups are also involved in the program, mainly to help people take advantage of their new connectivity. The College Board and Khan Academy are working together to provide standardized-test prep. The code library GitHub is donating $250,000 to help teach low-income students how to use digital devices and the Web. Libraries are getting in on the act too, with the American Library Association pledging to set up specialized programs for public-housing residents.
How is this different from other government programs to help the poor get online?
As I mentioned earlier, ConnectHome can be thought of as the residential counterpart to the Obama administration's ConnectED program, which saw the Federal Communications Commission boost its spending on educational broadband by $1 billion a year. Telecom companies like Verizon, Sprint and AT&T also gave $100 million each to the program in free cellular data, devices or other in-kind donations. ConnectED aims to connect 99 percent of U.S. students to high-speed Internet within five years.
The FCC also has its own set of programs to help the underprivileged connect to the Internet, and these have been getting a lot of attention in recent months. Last year, the agency voted to expand and streamline E-Rate, its program to help schools and libraries pay for broadband. And more recently, it has begun to weigh how to reform Lifeline, which currently gives low-income Americans a discount on phone service but soon could also apply to high-speed Internet plans.
ConnectHome, meanwhile, is expected to ultimately require all new public housing projects to support high-speed Internet.
You can find out more at the government's Web site for ConnectHome.