Try to remember life before the Internet — when fax machines were cutting edge and the simplest exchange of information relied on snail mail and phone calls. Just imagine trying to navigate life in 2016 without the Internet.
Impossible? It's a reality for many low-income families who can't afford an Internet connection, and it's especially tragic for children who need access to do their schoolwork. But one company, Cox Communications, is working to bridge this digital divide with Connect2Compete, which makes broadband available at the reduced price of $9.95 a month to thousands of qualified families with K-12 students.
The program has been an unqualified success, connecting more than 160,000 low-income individuals in Cox's 18-state service area, an effort recently recognized by President Obama. Remarkably, more than half of those families report improved grades for their children.
"Technology and the Internet play an increasingly critical role in the education of our youth, yet students cannot take the Internet home in their backpacks," said Pat Esser, president of Cox Communications. "We are committed to staying at the forefront of the Internet adoption movement. Through strong partnerships in the communities we serve, we will build more bridges to enable all families to cross the digital divide, regardless of where they live."
Lack of home Internet access is a surprisingly widespread problem. Consider that nearly two-thirds of the lowest-income U.S. households own a computer, but less than half have broadband. And 90 percent of all college applications are submitted online.
More than access
Low-cost home Internet access is just part of the Connect2Compete program. Wi-Fi modem rental and installation are provided free of charge, and Connect2Compete subscribers also have access to over 400,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for no additional cost. Additionally, Cox works with hardware partners to provide free or low-cost computers to families in the program in select markets. The Connect2Compete program is available to students in nearly 800 schools in California.
"The Connect2Compete program, which is based on a decade-long program we did in Santa Barbara, is a collaboration with the FCC, and Cox was the first broadband provider to pilot the program," said MyMy Lu, public affairs manager for Cox California. "Our focus is to find those who still need this important resource, and we do so by partnering with hundreds of schools, nonprofits, libraries, elected officials and community leaders."
Launched nationally in 2013, Connect2Compete is ramping up its efforts in 2016 by hosting more than 200 events across the country. The goal is to sign up at least 100,000 Americans. To qualify, families must have at least one K-12 child and participate in one of the following government subsidy programs: National Free School Lunch, SNAP, TANF or Public Housing Assistance.
Cox also recently announced a major investment in its support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) ConnectHome initiative — part of President Obama's goal to provide broadband access to all Americans — making Connect2Compete available to any HUD-assisted household with school-age children living in a Cox service area. The initiative has the potential to impact nearly 250,000 students.
"Cox has had a long history of supporting children and education, including broadband adoption," Lu said. "Our company recognizes that having access to the Internet in the home is critical for a child's educational success."
Reaching out to the Hispanic community, Connect2Compete recently launched a media campaign with Spanish-language network Univision, promoting the program through live programming, public service campaigns and more. Cox will be highlighting its "Smart Tools for School" campaign to drive home the message that Internet access at home can promote confidence and curiosity, improving performance in the classroom and beyond.
"Today's digital classrooms are tomorrow's connected businesses," Esser said. "The investments we are making in closing the digital divide help ensure our students are prepared for their careers and lifelong success after school. Together with partners like Univision, we are committed to closing the homework gap for all students, no matter where they live."
Eligible families can apply online by visiting www.connect2compete.org/cox or calling 855-222-3252.
—Bob Young for Cox Communications