Digital Bytes II: Broadband Access Programs


Photo of Speakers

(l-r) Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, Juanita Budd, Norma Fernandez, Elizabeth Quintanilla and Eva Muñoz.

AFN offered a second byte of Digital Inclusion information on April 22 with our new lunchtime speaker series, Digital Bytes. Four community leaders from the corporate and nonprofit arena shared insights about broadband access programs. The panel discussed challenges and solutions to connect the community.  In keeping with the broadband topic, one of the panelists participated via Skype from Los Angeles.

The event took place at the Carver Branch Austin Public Library and included the following panelists: Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, Google Fiber, Community Impact Programs & Investments; Norma Fernandez, EveryoneOn, National Digital Inclusion partner and Eva Muñoz, AT&T, Government Relations. The panel was moderated by AFN Board Member Elizabeth Quintanilla, Chief Marketing Gunslinger, Marketing Gunslingers.

 

What challenges does EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit, face in getting people connected?

Norma Fernandez

“Our mission is very simple to eliminate the digital divide. From an American community survey we know that 25% of households across the country still remain offline. We know that cost and relevancy continue to be big factors for this occurrence,” said Norma Fernandez

One of the biggest challenges we face is finding affordable options that have limited restrictions. Many of the requirements of the low cost options may require participants of the national school lunch program or similar programs.

For many the desire to connect is sometimes outweighed by the cost. “We hear a lot of stories about parents in the community who are going out of their way to use free Wi-Fi services at fast food restaurants to allow their children to do homework. “ We are excited to work with internet service providers that understand the challenge that many people face and are willing to ensure that cost is not a barrier and willing to invest in computers and training to ensure that people are really leveraging the power of the internet.”

How is Google Fiber bridging the digital divide particularly with low income communities?

“One of the ways we are supporting the community is through partnerships with affordable housing and public housing providers. Through our partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, we have a three legged stool approach. With Digital Inclusion—we know that if we just do one leg of the stool it is not enough.  One leg of the stool is providing the internet connection in the home, another leg is ensuring that someone has the education and training, showing relevance, and the third leg is ensuring that someone has access to a device, ideally a computer instead of a smartphone. This program is unique in that it incorporates all three legs of the stool” said Parisa Fatehi-Weeks

Tell us more about AT&T’s new broadband program, ACCESS from AT&T.

“First, we are delighted to be part of this effort to inform the community about broadband access programs. Today, this community can help participants who are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to get low cost broadband service.  Basically, to qualify at least one person in the household will need to be a participant of the SNAP program,” said Eva Munoz.  Three Internet access speeds ranging from 10 megabits per second to 3 megabits per second will be available through the program.  Eva also discussed some of AT&T‘s digital education initiatives and how the company is fulfilling the mission, “Connect to Good: using the power of our network to build a better tomorrow.”

 

The panelists agreed that there is still a lot of work to be done in bridging the digital divide in Austin. It will take the continued efforts of non-profits and corporations working together to create a community without digital barriers. If you would like to watch a video of the event, visit AFN’s YouTube channel. You can also submit topics to our next event to the AFN Communications Manager.

Look for our next Digital Bytes event in Fall 2016.