Detroiters have multiple options to access affordable and reliable internet service. The city’s director of digital inclusion said efforts are ongoing to inform residents about programs and how to qualify. Credit: Shutterstock

Detroiters struggling to access affordable and reliable internet might have more options than they are aware of.

The City of Detroit has been working to connect vulnerable residents to a number of free or affordable plans, but spreading the word has “been an ongoing process,” according to Joshua Edmonds, Detroit’s director of digital inclusion.

“We have a network of neighborhood technology hubs, a network of community ambassadors that have been getting the information (about affordable internet options) out,” Edmonds told BridgeDetroit.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the connectivity challenges that some Detroit neighborhoods face. More than a quarter of the city’s households and 70% of school-age children don’t have home broadband, ranking Detroit among the five least-connected cities in the country.

The Hope Village neighborhood on the city’s west side was set to be the test site for a $10 million investment in a city-led expansion of fiber optic internet infrastructure. But last month, when Detroit solicited proposals for the project, no companies bid on the contract. Edmonds said the city still plans to begin that project sometime this summer.

One initiative aimed at helping bridge the city’s digital divide is the Connect 313 Fund. The partnership, which formed in 2020, was founded by a number of companies and organizations including the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Rocket Mortgage, City of Detroit, Microsoft and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

Last month, the partners announced the creation of 17 neighborhood technology hubs, including at least one in each of Detroit’s seven council districts, to work toward ensuring citywide access to community spaces that provide internet connectivity, technology and digital literacy programs. Connect 313 also teaches Detroiters technology skills and helps connect residents with jobs in the technology industry.

Federal programs, like the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Lifeline Internet Subsidy, also are available and can help eligible Detroiters save hundreds of dollars on internet service every year.

Here’s a rundown of some of the programs offered by the federal government and local internet service providers and information on who is eligible.

Affordable Connectivity Program:

This Federal Communications Commission benefit program helps ensure that households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare and more.

The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.

The program is available to residents in households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is about $55,500 for a four-person household.

Residents also are eligible if someone in their household qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, free and reduced-price school lunch program, or if they have received a federal Pell Grant in the past year.

Detroiters can qualify for ACP if they (or someone in their household) participates in the Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

Lifeline Internet Subsidy:

Lifeline provides subscribers a discount on qualifying monthly telephone service, broadband internet service, or bundled voice-broadband packages purchased from participating wirelines or wireless providers.

Detroiters who earn 135% or less than the federal poverty line – or about $37,463 for a four-person household – qualify for Lifeline, along with individuals who receive Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aid, Supplemental Security Income, or Federal Public Housing Assistance.

Detroiters who participate in Tribal programs and live on federally recognized Tribal land or are part of the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefits program also qualify.

Comcast Internet Essentials:

Comcast is one internet provider in the city that has its own program through the Affordable Connectivity Program. It’s called Comcast Essentials and is free for people who qualify for the National School Lunch Program, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, a federal Pell Grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or are eligible for the Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefits program.

The program cost is $9.95 per month, plus tax, with no contract and free equipment. Participants can then enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program for the free service.

To get the benefit, residents must live in an area where Comcast service is available and have been without Comcast internet for at least 90 days.

AT&T Access:

For $10 a month, eligible Detroiters can get AT&T Access. Similar to Comcast’s Internet Essentials, AT&T Access is facilitated through enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program and it has some of the same qualifications.

Detroiters with a household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line qualify, along with those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and National School Lunch Program benefits.

Verizon:

Verizon offers two lower cost options for internet in Detroit. The first program is called Fios Forward and it’s free to Detroiters who meet all of the qualifications for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Fios Forward has no taxes or fees, no installation charge, and no equipment charges for those who enroll.

The free internet plan offered by Fios Forward is 300 mbps, but Detrotiers can get higher speeds at discounted rates. The typical 500 mbps plan costs $69.99, but is $29.99 per month with Fios Forward. The 940 mbps plan is usually $89.99, but with the reduced cost is $49.99.

The second option is Verizon’s regular monthly internet plan, which starts at $25 a month for customers with 5G mobile plans and who use the “AutoPay” function for their monthly bill. The plan has no annual contract fees and no additional equipment charges.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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