Feds Launch Program to Give Low-Income Access to Broadband - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Feds Launch Program to Give Low-Income Access to Broadband

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia -

Low-income families who don't have broadband Internet access may finally get a chance to connect.

The Federal Communications Commission is launching a $4 billion program to narrow the digital divide.

Nicole Smith is on the side that can't afford a computer, much less Internet access for it.

"It's really a struggle. Sometimes you have to, like, stop and think...this I don't need," said Smith, who works at Goodwill Industries in Charleston.

She, along with co-worker Rebecca Miller, are part of the growing digital divide of people being left behind by the explosion of high-speed Internet.

"If you're not tech savvy, you're going to get left out, and there's so much to learn. And I have no experience with it," said Miller.

The FCC says about one-third of Americans haven't yet adopted broadband at home, critical to advance in today's job market.

"I feel left out. I feel left out," added Smith.

So the FCC is speeding up its efforts with an initiative called "Connect to Compete."  Cable companies under the program will offer Internet service for $9.95 a month to homes with children that are eligible for school lunches. Participating computer companies will offer refurbished laptops for $150.

It's a program Goodwill Industries' Kathy McKinley says will make a real difference in the lives of many of their employees.

"You know, by helping families with children, then you're really exposing them," said McKinley, director of community relations at Goodwill Industries of Kanawha Valley.  "You're kind of equalizing them. You're allowing their parents to help the kids with their homework. You're allowing the kids to help their grandparents to learn about Facebook. There's a lot of connectivity out there that can make a difference," she said.

The program will launch on a small scale this spring in yet-to-be determined areas and roll out nationwide in September.

Connect to Compete is a newly formed nonprofit organization that will operate the program, which the FCC will oversee.