A Phoenix advertising campaign aimed at helping more low-income families access and afford high-speed internet is underway, according to the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media.
The campaign encourages families to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative to help eligible households pay for their internet service and internet-connected devices.
“In this day in age, you need to have access to the internet,” said Ilana Lowery, Common Sense Media’s Arizona director.
The 12-week bilingual campaign focuses on creating a sense of ”digital belonging for everyone,” Lowery said, by increasing awareness of the federal benefits and providing people with the help they need to apply.
The campaign consists of public service announcements on local television and radio stations, digital and outdoor advertisements and grassroots outreach.
Common Sense Media partnered with the Digital Equity Institute and Arizona State University to provide an enrollment support hotline, Lowery said. The hotline number is 833-201-1345. Program information is also available online at getmyinternet.org.
“It was important to us to make sure that we had an avenue for these folks to not only tell them about the program but to also physically help them sign up,” Lowery said.
Common Sense Media picked Arizona for this initial campaign because of the state’s diversity, Lowery said. The organization is looking to spread the 12-week pilot campaign from Phoenix to other communities.
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Eligibility and benefits
Families with a household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for the program. A household of four, for instance, is eligible for the program if its income is $55,500 or below.
Households that already receive certain government benefits, including Medicaid, Pell Grant, SNAP or free and reduced school lunches, are also eligible.
Eligible households can receive up to $30 per month off their internet service and a one-time discount of up to $100 for a tablet or computer. Households on tribal lands can receive a discount of up to $75 per month for internet service.
One monthly service discount and one device discount are allowed per household. Consumers enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program through companies that offer the discounts.
The application can be completed online, by mail or by calling participating internet service providers.
Bridging the digital divide
In addition to advertising, Common Sense Media is reaching out to educators and school districts so that schools provide students with materials on the Affordable Connectivity Program, Lowery said.
A digital divide exists between students who have high-speed internet and adequate internet-connected devices at home and students who do not. In Arizona, more than 335,000 students and nearly 5,000 teachers lack adequate internet access, according to Common Sense Media. Lowery said internet access should be treated as a utility and not a luxury.
Students who don’t have internet access at home can fall behind in school, Lowery said, which compounds inequity.
The cost of internet service is one of the main causes of the digital divide, she said.
“The idea of the campaign is to really level the playing field so that those who don’t have access to the internet can have an opportunity to have it at least at a reduced cost,” Lowery said.