PUCs have the ability to address two key challenges that exist for families trying to get connected to affordable broadband connections. First, the challenge of knowing what service provider options are available at a specific address, and second, which low-cost service plans are available in a service area. Data collection is key to solving both challenges. Both California (CPUC) and Wisconsin (WPSC) are actively collecting broadband availability data from service providers, and using these data to populate their respective broadband maps. The California CPUC took this one step further, and created the California Affordable Internet Map, which allows a user to enter their zip code, or school district to find affordable or free service offerings available in their area. The WPSC launched a broadband emergency response site.
In order to address the homework gap in the long term, it will be critical for state PUCs to continue to engage the service provider community through data collection efforts. However, it will also be important to encourage providers to offer more effective and affordable Internet plans.
A great example of this is the California CPUC letter that was sent to all registered Internet service providers in the state. The four key requests made in the letter include:
- Provide service sufficient for all family members to work and learn from home. Subscription in the range of $0-15 a month, offering a minimum of 25 Mbps, and eliminate or waive data caps and overage charges.
- Provide expansive program eligibility. Eligibility must be as broad as possible, whether based on income and/or qualifying for programs such as National School Lunch Program, Unemployment Insurance, Medi-Cal, CalFresh, California Alternative Rates for Energy, Family Electric Rate Assistance, or California LifeLine program. Consider allowing participation in any public assistance program in your program eligibility requirements.
- Make signing up easy. Allow customers to immediately sign-up for the plan online or over the phone before requiring eligibility verification. Eligibility can be verified at a later date.
- Remove barriers. Eliminate any requirement that customers have no unpaid balances. Supply new customers with a low- or no-cost modem and Wi-Fi router either to own or lease.
PUCs across the country can follow the example set by California and Wisconsin to help ensure that there is adequate connectivity for every student, regardless of the student’s address.