DETROIT (WXYZ) — Dozens of Detroiters lined up Tuesday morning to learn about state support for low-income families struggling to afford broadband services.
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, one in five households is offline, which equates to nearly 24 million households. While the NTIA says 58% of offline households have no interest or need to be online, about 18% of offline households say they cannot afford internet services at home.
The gap between people with and without internet access is known as the digital divide.
Tuesday in Focus: Hope Building in Detroit, Detroit National Action Network (NAN) has partnered with Comcast to enroll people in discounted services through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to bridge the gap.
“In the city of Detroit, we have a major connectivity issue. We have a lot of people who are part of this digital divide,” said William Davis of Detroit NAN. “We want as many people as possible to receive this loan. We want as many people as possible not to have to worry about at least part of their internet bill, or perhaps no internet bill at all.”
According to Davis, the program backed by the Biden administration offers a subsidy to help Americans afford internet services. Those who qualify can reduce their monthly Internet bill to $30 or less. There are also instances where people would qualify for free broadband services.
“We have far too many poor people in the city of Detroit who could easily benefit,” Davis said. “They have a lot of families that make less than $30,000 a year and I find that tragic. They have to save wherever they can.”
Marcia George was one of the people who attended Tuesday’s event in hopes of lowering her bill.
“My internet services are so high, and it wasn’t like this before the power went out in August,” George said. “All sorts of things have been driving my bill up and now it’s down to $46 a month and I’m trying to see if I can reduce it.”
After people registered, they were able to sit down with someone who could help them navigate the ACP enrollment process and see if they qualified. People could also get one free laptop per household from Comcast.
“It’s a huge problem and it’s everywhere, not just in our urban centers. It’s in rural America as well,” said Craig Dagonstini, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Michigan.
According to Dagonstini, Comcast has been working to bridge the gap in the digital divide since 2010 when they launched a program called Internet Essentials. Dagonstini says through the program they launched the first low-cost broadband service, which offers a low-cost monthly service, options to purchase a low-cost device, and free digital literacy training.
“To get people to sign up for this program, you have to meet them where they are. You can’t just send out an ad and expect people to show up,” said Dagonstini.
One hundred people could go home with a free laptop in hand. You also get one year of free technical support. Comcast said they would collect information from people who arrived after the first 100 people and get them a device at a later date.
Amarion Davis, who studies carpentry, was one of the people who received a free computer.
“I’m in construction. I heard about it from my mom,” Davis said. “I will use (the computer) for note taking, study and research.”
Organizers say more programs like this will come Tuesday as they work to get more Detroiters online.