For low-income households, is T-Free Mobile's Internet Enough?

For low-income households, is T-Free Mobile's Internet Enough?
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The $10 billion giveaway from the provider is a band-aid for a shameful US problem. T-Mobile is preparing to offer 10 million homes in the US free internet. Named Project 10Million, the idea is to bring online children from low-income families so that during lockdown they can continue to learn.

For five years and 100 GB of data per year, qualifying households will get a free hotspot. Last November, long before the shutdown of COVID-19, T-CEO Mobile's actually revealed this scheme. In the US, there is already a large digital gap, and the pandemic is just making inequalities more evident. Internet connectivity is just as important for kids and staff as electricity.

It's 2020, and broadband internet isn't spread nearly equally everywhere in the US. According to the FCC figures for 2017, one kind of digital divide is the rural/urban divide, where over a quarter of rural residents still lack a wired broadband link. The other kind is one where there is no internet connectivity for non-white households in cities, even though the cables are laid down.

Education columnist Jabari Simama writes for One in three African Americans and Hispanics, 14 million and 17 million, respectively, still do not have access to computer technology in their homes. Similarly, 35 percent of black households and 29 percent of Hispanic households do not have broadband.

Students without the internet at home are more likely to be students of color, from low-income families, or in households with lower parental education levels, according to an Associated Press census report. 18 percent of all US students do not have broadband at home.

In the best of times, this is terrible. They also can't access basic criteria such as online class content, even though children have a school-supplied computer. And while there are a lot of ways to get free or cheap online, they aren't perfect.

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The Workaround?

Project 10Million by T-Mobile will be administered by colleges. The 5G hotspots can be distributed by school districts to those who need them. And while 100 GB a year doesn't sound like much, it's definitely enough to accomplish schoolwork. Also important is the five-year duration. One scheme in Hartford, Connecticut, provided high school kids with hotspots, but half of all district households were left without access when the program ended.

By using their phones, children get around these types of problems. They can either share the data link of their phone to a laptop, known as tethering or just do homework on a phone. Tethering is a fast track to max out their data plans, says Gunter of The Restart Initiative, and although it is possible to use a phone for schoolwork, it is impractical. On phone screens, we know kids can type just fine, but those tiny screens mean they have to flip back and forth between source material and writing.

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