Obama pushing broadband for low-income households

President Obama on Wednesday will announce plans to work with local governments, telecommunications firms and nonprofits to provide broadband service and digital training to more than a quarter million low-income households.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pilot program — dubbed ConnectHome — is designed to bring residents of public or assisted housing online in 28 communities.

The plan will bring broadband Internet service and training to close to 200,000 low-income children, the administration said.

“While many middle-class U.S. students go home to Internet access, allowing them to do research, write papers, and communicate digitally with their teachers and other students, too many lower-income children go unplugged every afternoon when school ends,” the White House said.

“This ‘homework gap’ runs the risk of widening the achievement gap, denying hardworking students the benefit of a technology-enriched education.”

The president will formally announce the program in Durant, Okla., the White House said. Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro painted access to broadband Internet as an economic necessity for children and their parents.

“The stakes are clear: families living in the 21st century need 21st century tools to thrive,” he said.

Eight Internet service providers, including CenturyLink, Cox Communications, Sprint and Google Fiber, will provide low-cost or free broadband service to HUD residents in the chosen communities.

Companies and non-governmental organizations will also back programs aimed at bolstering residents’ digital literacy and technical skills.

The list of organizations involved includes some recognizable names. Best Buy plans to offer some residents technical training and support, including after school for certain students. GitHub, which developers use to manage coding projects and collaborate, has donated $250,000 to the pilot program.

In addition to support from the corporate and nonprofit sectors, the initiative will rely on the support of local governments.

“Mayors from Boston to Durham, and from Washington, DC to Seattle, have committed to reallocate local funds, leverage local programming, and use regulatory tools to support this initiative and the expansion of broadband access in low-income communities,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

Other than a small U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the program uses no federal money, officials told reporters.

HUD will also be directed to take additional steps to make broadband a part of its assisted housing.

Castro said that the administration will evaluate the program's success for possible future expansion.

"My hope is that it will demonstrate great results and will give us the opportunity in the future to think through how we could help expand it beyond this point," he said. "But, right now, it's a demonstration project in these 28 communities."

"So we're focused on getting this right, and doing this as a demonstration project allows us to make sure that we get it right."

The Obama administration has made expanding broadband access a priority in 2015. Earlier this year, the FCC voted to move forward with examining a plan to expand a phone service subsidy program to cover broadband service.

--This report was updated at 11:58 a.m.