Accessing free and affordable internet

COVID-19 Resources and Updates, Parent & Family Newsletter | 10/30/2020

Darcelina Soloria
Spokane Organizer

PARENTS & FAMILIES NEWSLETTER 

Lea el Boletín Informativo para Padres & Familias en español aquí.

Below is the second edition of our Parents & Families newsletter for the 2020-21 school year. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.

You can read our past newsletters here.

It’s been over six weeks since school started, but in my house it feels it’s been six months. In many ways it’s easier than it was in the spring, because we’ve established a routine. In other ways, it’s much harder because it feels like it will never end. 

However, even though I’m not an expert, I do know that this will end. Our school buildings will not be closed forever and we will have to adjust with our kids again when things shift. But for now, the screen and our internet connection are essential parts of my sons’ school day.

For many of us, having internet access at home has been a luxury, not a necessity. But now, with remote learning and working from home and online job applications, it’s become as critical as our water or electricity. Despite unemployment at historic highs and income levels changing rapidly for many families, the monthly internet bill is one we cannot afford to cut when it also means being cut off from school or work. 

Last month I covered technology tips and internet safety in this newsletter (you can read it here). This month, as the second of our three-part series on Remote Learning, I’d like to share important information on how to access free (and affordable) internet for you and your family in Washington. 

Free internet at home

This past spring, through the federal CARES Act, the U.S. Congress provided $8.8 million in funds to local school districts and state education agencies to provide support in covering emergency COVID-19 costs. Our state superintendent’s office (OSPI) has used the funding to create the K–12 Internet Access Program, which connects students in need to internet access at home with no cost to the student or their family.

Through the program, students whose families are considered low-income and are not currently connected to the internet can get connected through the end of the 2020–21 school year for free.

According to OSPI, to be eligible for the program, students and their families must:

  • Not have had internet connectivity in the home prior to August 2020.
  • Be able to show they are low-income and eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

The K–12 Internet Access Program is available at no cost to eligible families. There are no monthly out-of-pocket subscription fees or installation charges and past debt to an internet service provider or unpaid bills are not barriers for families who choose to participate in the program. To receive access to free internet through the program, your first step should be to contact your school district using the contact email listed for your district on this spreadsheet.

If you cannot find your district on the list (some contacts are not yet listed), you can start the process by filling out this form (spanish).

Low-cost internet options

If your family does not qualify for the free internet program or you’d like to pursue a different option, many internet providers offer low-cost options for families who receive state assistance. The options available to you do depend on where you live and which internet providers are in your area. If you're not sure where to start, you can contact your school district to ask for support in finding a local program.

Comcast is one widely available internet service provider that has an ‘Internet Essentials’ package for $9.95 each month if you qualify. To apply for this program, you need to:

  • Qualify for programs like the National School Lunch Program, housing assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI and others
  • Live in an area where Comcast Internet service is available
  • Have not had Comcast Internet in the last 90 days
  • Households who owe money to Comcast may still qualify if approved by 12/31/20

You can apply right now from your mobile device if you meet the above criteria.

An additional option is the Lifeline internet discount program, provided by the federal government. This option also requires you to qualify based on your income level or the enrollment of you or your child in certain programs like Medicaid, SNAP, Veterans Pension, or SSI. The Lifeline program applies a discount of up to $9.25 to your existing internet service, which may help make it more affordable for your family. 

Due to the pandemic, the government has also made it easier for individuals who have lost their employment during the coronavirus pandemic and who qualify for Lifeline benefits to enroll in the Lifeline program. Additionally, they have streamlined Lifeline service enrollment for consumers living in rural Tribal areas. You can start here to apply to Lifeline.

Public areas with free internet

Alternatively, either while you wait for the internet to be connected at your home (or if you don’t qualify or can’t afford a low-cost option), you can also access the internet via public wi-fi ‘hotspots’ from your parked car in certain locations.

The Washington State Broadband Office has created a map of free drive-in public wi-fi hotspots across Washington state. 

Access is available to all residents with specific emphasis on remote learning for students. Additionally, this service can be used for job searches, telehealth, telework, unemployment filing, and census participation. Each hotspot will have its own security protocol. Some will be open and others will have Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) safe security installed.

Some internet providers have also opened their wifi hotspots for public use. Xfinity Wifi has hotspots available all over Washington state - you can view a map here to find one near you.

It is important to note that although many of these public wifi hotspots have security protocols to protect you, take care to avoid accessing fake networks or accessing very sensitive information like your bank account when using them, if possible. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family when using a public wi-fi hotspot:

 Spanish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ph2x64nxvpo

As always, if you have any additional questions or would like help advocating for your student, please contact me at dsoloria@stand.org. I’m here to help you and stand together as we stand up for Washington children. 

Also, if you haven’t yet voted and are able, please cast your vote in this important election. As we prepare for the coming week, it’s important to make sure that every vote gets counted. Because many states have increased access to mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, it is very likely that we will not know the final results of the elections for several days. It takes time for democracy to work properly! We’ll be paying close attention and keeping you updated as we find out the news and move forward as a community to tackle the challenges ahead. Stay well, and we’ll talk soon.

Standing with you,

Darcelina

 

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