The start of the school year brings an inevitable paradox of feelings: excitement and anxiety. A world of possibilities awaits each student setting foot in a new classroom on day one to encounter new teachers, new peers, new challenges. New clothes, backpacks and supplies make taking that first step a bit easier. However, some parents will experience the extra anxiety of sending their children into a new year without all the resources that make success more likely.
Many local organizations stepped in locally
with back-to-school drives, distributing free backpacks filled with supplies. These, no doubt, provided relief to struggling parents.
However, some vital resources are often overlooked, such as those providing access to the digital world. Computers, mobile devices and the internet are essential tools students need to compete in an increasingly tech-centric world. Homework assignments often require accessing the internet, and the standardized tests students must pass to be promoted are delivered electronically. Students with little or no experience navigating the digital world are at a distinct disadvantage.
It’s troubling, then, that many families still do not have internet at home in Alachua County, despite the fact that 98 percent of homes in Gainesville are serviceable, and internet is affordable. Cox Communications pioneered a program called Connect2Compete to ensure that price is not a barrier to digital world access. The program includes special pricing for families with children who qualify for free and reduced school lunch or receive other assistance, like public housing or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Most of these families may be connected to high-speed internet for just $9.95 a month, inclusive: no installation fees, no equipment fees, no price increase for as long as they qualify.
Furthermore, Cox built and maintains an award-winning, world-class internet infrastructure capable of reliably delivering speeds of up to one gigabit to every home in its footprint, even though today and far into the future, that top speed is more of a luxury than a necessity. After all, a household could simultaneously run more than 50 connected devices seamlessly on just one quarter of that speed.
So, reliable internet is widely available and affordable in Gainesville. Why, then, are more families not taking advantage of this generous offer?
One explanation national polls have uncovered is surprising. A White House study found the number one reason families do not have internet at home is because they don’t think they need it. Another possibility is that families are not aware it is available and affordable.
Overcoming these barriers will require a community education effort. The plurality of families who have enrolled say they learned about Connect2Compete from family or friends. These trusted sources are far more powerful messengers than any other channel.
If community members would share information about the necessity and affordability of broadband with friends and family who may qualify for reduced rates, the needle may move. If the needle moves, other indicators may move as well. We may see achievement and income gaps decrease and, therefore, the health of our community increase.
More information about Connect2Compete is available at www.cox.com/c2c.