Obama to expand broadband in public housing: How wide is the digital divide?

A new initiative will bring cheaper and easier internet access to people living in public housing across the country.

Christian K. Lee/AP
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announces a policy change at a news conference on July 8,, in Chicago next to new public housing units on the city's South Side. The Obama administration is expected to announce ConnectHome, a new initiative to to expand broadband access Wednesday in Durant, Okla.

President Obama is introducing a new initiative that will expand broadband access for public housing residents. The pilot project, called ConnectHome, is the administration’s latest effort to bridge the “digital divide” between the haves and have-nots.

ConnectHome will make it cheaper and easier for more than 275,000 low-income households, including almost 200,000 children, to get home Internet, according to a White House statement. Internet Service Providers, non-profits, and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices to people living in assisted housing units in 27 cities across the country and one tribal nation. 

The president is scheduled to speak about the program on Wednesday in Durant, Okla., where the Choctaw Nation is working with four local providers to bring the Internet to 425 homes.

Since Mr. Obama took office in 2009, the private and public sectors have invested over $260 billion into new broadband infrastructure, and 75 percent of Americans now use broadband at home, the White House reports.

However, a recent analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers shows that nearly two-thirds of households in the lowest-income quintile own a computer, and less than half have a home Internet subscription.

This limits the opportunities of lower-income Americans in a world where success in business and academics relies so heavily on using the Internet, Obama said in a January speech. ConnectHome is intended to bridge the “achievement gap” that results from this lack of Internet access. 

“It’s about giving the entrepreneur, the small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley, or across the globe,” Obama said. “It’s about helping a student access the online courses and employment opportunities that can help her pursue her dreams.” 

“Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” he added. 

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