White House’s ConnectHome to expand public housing broadband

The new White House program will expand broadband to reach 275,000 low-income households in 27 cities and help students access the Internet at home.

There’s the modernization of E-Rate, an upgrade to another Federal Communications Commission program called Lifeline, and the Obama administration’s ConnectED plan and Broadband Opportunity Council.

These federally driven initiatives aim to get high-speed broadband access into the homes, schools and libraries of millions of Americans, especially those in poor communities, to usher them into the 21st century.

Now add ConnectHome, a program unveiled Wednesday that will get Internet connectivity into hundreds of thousands of public housing units in 27 cities and a Native American tribal nation.

It’s another attempt, White House officials said, to address the “homework gap” that prevents roughly 5 million children from signing online at home.


“These are a set of initiatives to not divide us into slow and fast lanes,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said during a press call with reporters. “It’s really important that children can do their homework.”

President Barack Obama officially announced the new program late Wednesday at Durant High School in Durant, Okla., where part of the Choctaw Tribal Nation resides.

Private companies have committed resources and money to the program, which is being spearheaded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Among them, Sprint will offer free wireless broadband access to students in kindergarten through 12th grade living in public housing; Best Buy will provide free after-school technical training to students in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City, San Antonio and Washington, D.C.; and the College Board along with Khan Academy will offer students in public housing free online SAT practice resources.

Wireless connectivity that typically runs from about $30 to $50 per month will be reduced for certain families at $10 to $20 per month, said Tom Kalil, deputy director for tech and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


But there are challenges — public housing developments are often inundated with infrastructure problems that could make accessing Wi-Fi difficult. City and state agencies are also notoriously slow on making repairs, and funneling resources and money into rebuilding as well as new construction projects.

Kalil said that HUD regulations would be altered so that new construction dollars can be used to fix internal wiring in public housing developments, many of which, he acknowledged, are in dead zones or don’t have easily accessible Wi-Fi.

Funds for the program will be drawn from reallocated money in city budgets; no new federal dollars will be spent, officials said.

According to White House officials, more than 3 million students from 10,000 schools are already using the software, hardware, wireless connectivity and training resources made possible by $2 billion in private-sector commitments as part of the ConnectED program.

The initiative will reach cities in 20 states and the District of Columbia at launch. The list of cities, according to the White House, is below:

  • Albany, Georgia
  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Baton Rouge, Lousiana
  • Boston
  • Camden, New Jersey
  • Choctaw Nation, Oklahoma
  • Cleveland
  • Denver
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Fresno, California
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Los Angeles
  • Macon, Georgia
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Meriden, Connecticut
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • New Orleans
  • New York
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • Philadelphia
  • Rockford, Illinois
  • San Antonio
  • Seattle
  • Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Washington, D.C.

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