There is virtually no sphere of modern life not affected by the rapid growth of internet connectivity throughout the world. Yet people living in poverty remain disadvantaged by having no access or only limited access to the online world. In Utah, there is now a program that seeks to provide household internet service to low-income citizens, which gives a fundamental boost to the state’s battle against intergenerational poverty.
About a third of Utah households with annual incomes below $35,000 now are without internet access at home. That means schoolchildren are hard-pressed to complete some homework assignments and keep up with their grades by checking online report cards and can be left out of activities that require access to the web to sign up or participate. A trove of research connects the lack of an internet connection to lower levels of educational achievement, which further entrenches a cycle of poverty. That’s why a program here by the state’s largest internet provider deserves credit for a socially responsible corporate policy.
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has enrolled 64,000 Utahns in a $10-a-month access program that requires no credit check or long-term contract. The company has partnered with the Utah Housing Authority and the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corp. to extend service to those living in subsidized housing, along with offering classes on internet use. Other tech giants are also working on expanding online access among the impoverished, here and worldwide. Facebook is partnering with other firms to offer free or low-cost access to impoverished regions worldwide. Google has embarked on an ambitious program to deploy high-altitude helium balloons that receive signals from ground telecommunications facilities and bounce back internet access over wide areas. The program, called Project Loon, is being used in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where communications infrastructures were decimated by two hurricanes.
From a business perspective, it makes sense for these companies to move into underserved markets. From a philanthropic point of view, their efforts are vital in helping people move out of long-term poverty. Half of the world’s population is not able to access the internet. A report prepared for Facebook by Price Waterhouse Cooper suggests that worldwide internet coverage would add nearly $7 trillion to the world economy and raise 500 million people out of poverty.
In Utah, a host of innovative programs are aimed at reversing the cycle of long-term impoverishment that now afflicts thousands of households. The cornerstone of that effort is establishing a stable educational track for low-income children. Without success in school, an impoverished child is many times more likely to remain in that state in adulthood. And without access to the vast universe of online content and connectivity, educational success has become nearly impossible to achieve.