By Susan Shalhoub -February 27, 2019 4:00 am
PROVIDENCE – Public-private pilot program ConnectRI will help close the gap between state residents getting housing assistance and internet access, according to a state news release.
The ConnectRI participants – Housing Choice Voucher Program tenants without internet – were selected at random. Each receives free T-Mobile tablets as well as two years of mobile broadband and unlimited internet service underwritten by Santander Bank. After two years, residents can choose to continue their internet plan for $10 per month.
The effort is a partnership between the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., the state’s Office of Innovation, T-Mobile, Santander, Providence Public Library and local public-housing authorities. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative, to bring affordable broadband access, digital literacy programs and electronic devices to households in need.
“Too many people are being left behind when it comes to internet access,” said Claribel Shavers, R.I. Housing director of leased housing and rental services. “Internet is now a necessity for all, from school-age kids needing to do their homework to adults looking to gain employment.”
More than 40 percent of residents receiving rental assistance through R.I. Housing do not have access to in-home internet, according to the release, relying on data plans, libraries and other alternatives to access basic needs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, school communications, health insurance and job applications.
“Closing the digital divide is a critical equity and economic-development issue for the state,” said Daniela Fairchild, director of the R.I. Office of Innovation. “ConnectRI is one bold solution.”
Throughout the program, participants will be surveyed to assess the impact of internet access on employment, education and quality of life.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.