President Barack Obama set a goal of bringing high-speed Internet to most schools by 2017. Now he is promoting a program to close the digital divide even further by bringing that faster Internet to more people, particularly students who live in public and assisted housing.
The president on Wednesday announced a pilot program under which the public, private and nonprofit sectors will work together to provide high-speed Internet and digital devices to more families at a lower cost, the White House said.
ConnectHome will begin in 27 cities and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, where Obama made the announcement. Kansas City is among the cities participating in the program.
“The president’s selection of Kansas City as a ConnectHome Initiative city will advance our ongoing digital equity efforts for our entire city.” Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “Public housing residents are in dire need of connectivity, and our participation in this initiative will give everyone the opportunity to succeed in Kansas City’s technological economy.”
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The White House said Obama’s school-based Internet program, ConnectEd, is on track to connect 99 percent of K-12 students to high-speed Internet in their classrooms and libraries by 2017. The new program aims to help less privileged students, as well as their families, access the Internet and continue learning at home.
Housing Secretary Julian Castro said Wednesday that less than half of the poorest households have a home Internet subscription, but most college applications are now submitted online and more than 80 percent of job openings at Fortune 500 companies are posted on the Web.
He said families cannot thrive without 21st century tools.
Edwin Lowndes, executive director of the Housing Authority of Greater Kansas City, said: “Affordable Internet service is necessary in today’s world in order to access education, employment opportunities and fully participate in our communities.”
Federal money is not expected to be spent on the program beyond a $50,000 Agriculture Department grant to the Choctaw Nation, officials said.
Several high-tech and telecommunications companies have pledged to support the ConnectHome program.
Google, for example, recently announced plans to spend more than $1 million for a yearlong program aimed at boosting digital access in several communities, including Kansas City.
Two Kansas City residents were selected last week for Google Fiber fellowships. The fellows, after a week of training, will work in their home markets for the coming year. Their mission is to help establish programs that connect more people with the Internet, give them access to digital devices and the skills to use them, and gain an understanding of the importance and value of online access.