Monday, May 29, 2023 | 05:04 am

Nevada’s Efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide: Free Home Internet Access Now Available

Nevada’s Efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide: Free Home Internet Access Now Available

Officials from government programs and local internet providers say they are working to bridge southern Nevada’s so-called “digital divide.”

Abdul Shabazz, 68, has lived in the Historic Westside of Las Vegas without home internet for nearly two decades. When he needed internet access, his only option was to walk to his nearest library, roughly 30 minutes away. Shabazz said he couldn’t afford another monthly cost at home.

Shabazz said some people don’t see home internet as a “real investment,” now having to choose between food or connectivity. His low-income household is among the thousands in Nevada that qualify for free high-speed home internet, though thousands are either not connected or paying the standard cost.

Through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), officials from the Nevada Office of Science, Innovation and Technology said 493,948 households qualify for free high-speed home internet. Of that amount, just 197,795 households, or about 40% of those eligible for the program, are enrolled, according to Nevada OSIT director Brian Mitchell.

In Clark County, while 263,330 households are eligible, just 150,546 are enrolled, or roughly 57% of those eligible.

“Affordability is a big obstacle,” said Mitchell. “Even if you build the fastest internet connection to someone’s house, if they can’t afford it, then they’re just as unconnected as they would be living in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.”

The program provides eligible participants a monthly discount of up to $30 on internet service and a one-time $100 discount towards a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. The program is a $14.2 billion federal broadband benefit funded by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Janet Uthman, market vice president for Cox Communications, says some eligible households are unaware that they qualify, providing more challenges in outreach.

“We don’t get a list with who’s eligible for this program,” said Uthman. “It is literally sometimes a door-by-door effort.”

Meanwhile, people like Shabazz are staying connected without breaking the bank. He says he was connected to home internet this year and now takes monthly classes to navigate the newfound technology.

I’m not of a Google generation, but I’m building up my skills in terms of being able to use this type of technology,” said Shabazz. “It really brings it home to you, in terms of you being involved. You don’t feel like you’re isolated.”

“I’m grateful for it myself,” he added.

Mitchell says households must qualify for other government-funded programs to qualify for this program. Those programs include SNAP, Lifeline, free and reduced-price school lunches and WIC program.