Some rural phone customers have an opportunity to get high speed Internet for under $10 and a desktop computer for only $50 thanks to a federal grant.
Illinois is the site of a federal pilot project that will supply qualifying customers of seven rural phone companies with a refurbished computer for $50 and a year’s worth of high-speed Internet access for as low as $9.95 a month, consumer advocates and telecommunications companies announced in a prepared release Tuesday.
Organizers of “Better Broadband, Better Lifeline” say the pilot project — one of only 14 in the nation — targets an urgent need in Illinois, where roughly four out of 10 rural families still don’t have access to high-speed Internet.
“With this project, Illinois is a pioneer in closing the digital divide,” said Drew Clark, executive director of Broadband Illinois, a nonprofit advocacy group managing the program. “Access to quality, high-speed Internet for all Illinoisans is a key to better education, better jobs, and better living in the Land of Lincoln,” he said.
The Citizens Utility Board (CUB), Illinois’ premier telecommunications watchdog group, also is assisting in the project along with seven phone companies that cover 35 counties in Western and Southern Illinois. They are: Adams Telephone Co-Operative, Cass Telephone Company, Harrisonville Telephone Company, Madison Telephone Company, Mid Century Telephone Cooperative, Shawnee Telephone Company and Wabash Telephone Cooperative.
“We’re involved in this program because we believe rural Illinois deserves the same access to high-speed Internet as the rest of the state,” said Cynthia Roberts, director of regulatory compliance for Shawnee Telephone Company. “This is an excellent opportunity for the families in our service territory, so we encourage people to find out if they qualify.”
The $1.5 million project is one of only 14 pilots in 21 states across the country to win a grant competition promoting better Internet access. The Federal Communications Commission is funding the project, thanks to savings created by reforms in its Lifeline program.
For decades, Lifeline has offered low-income customers monthly discounts on landline or cellphone service through funding provided by phone companies. The FCC’s goal is to expand Lifeline to give more people access to broadband. Rural Illinois ranks in the bottom half of the country for broadband Internet access, at 63 percent.
“We can’t improve education, the economy, and the quality of life in Illinois if we have families trapped at the bottom of a deep digital divide,” CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. “Illinois is helping the FCC draw a roadmap on how to expand the Lifeline program to encourage better broadband access for all families here and across the country.”
Qualifying Illinois residents are eligible for 12 months of high-speed Internet service for as little as $9.95 a month and a refurbished Dell desktop computer for $50. To qualify, participants must:
- Live within the service territory of one of the seven phone companies and be without Internet service for at least 60 days;
- Receive some form of government assistance, including Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Page 2 of 2 - The deadline to sign up for the program is Oct. 31. Customers interested in seeing if they qualify for the pilot project should call toll-free 1-855-438-6693.
The pilot project will last a year and help the FCC develop a plan for offering permanent broadband discounts to qualifying families in the future. When Illinois’ project is complete, participants will be able to keep their desktop computer and will have the option of paying full price for Internet, or leaving the service without paying a penalty.
The project will explore how computer training affects high-speed Internet adoption and usage. Therefore, certain zip codes may also qualify for free classes, offered by Connected Living, a nationally known company dedicated to giving under-served populations access to technology and training. The training zip codes for Shawnee Telephone Company are: 62919 (Cave in Rock), 62931 (Elizabethtown) and 62982 (Rosiclare).
Broadband Illinois promotes opportunities that high-speed internet offers for jobs, education, energy efficiency, healthcare, public safety, agriculture and government. Broadband Illinois collects and publishes telecom maps and information, collaborates with internet providers and economic development officials for deployment and educates individuals and organizations on how to effectively use broadband. Officially known as the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, it is a Springfield-based 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. Learn more at http://broadbandillinois.org and connect at http://facebook.com/broadbandillinois.
CUB is Illinois’ leading nonprofit, nonpartisan utility watchdog organization. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has saved consumers more than $10 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds. For more information, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556 or visit CUB’s award-winning website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.
For money-saving advice and consumer tips, visit www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org