‘It’s a matter of survival’: City looks to provide free internet for thousands of Sacramento residents

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Sacramento city leaders said they will use newly-acquired federal stimulus dollars to provide free internet service for those who are not able to afford it during the pandemic.

It did not take long for Sacramento’s school districts to find out that thousands of students had no computers and even if they did, they could not afford internet access. 

City council members discovered that the digital have-nots went way beyond families with school children. They include college students, isolated seniors who can’t get food deliveries or key pandemic information, those who just can’t afford internet service and those who struggle with services some take for granted. 

They can’t take part in remote meetings of the city council or get key medical information released online.

“Having internet service in your home is no longer a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of survival,” said Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby.

It’s why the city council agreed to spend more than half a million dollars of federal stimulus money to add to an emergency program Comcast quickly put in place for low-income residents. Comcast provides two months of free internet then $10 a month thereafter.

“We will help you pay for six months after your first two free months with Comcast,” Ashby explained. “That should get 10,000 people in the city of Sacramento connected through the end of the year 2020.”

A thousand basic computers will also be provided to those who need them.

It’s part of the city’s larger commitment to give a step up for low-income and disadvantaged residents.

“If they don’t have a computer or access to the internet, then they will fall farther and farther behind,” said Councilman Larry Carr.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said it’s an investment in the future economic health of the city.

“If they don’t have a computer, if they don’t have access, how are they going to get started?” he said.

A key question is what happens after six months when the program runs its course? If what city council members say is true, the need will still be there.

The hope is the economic recovery will allow people to afford to continue internet service or realize that access is worth budgeting for.

Steinberg sees the city program as a down payment for the future that won’t be abandoned.

“We won’t go backward once we get started,” the mayor said.

The city council will vote on approving the funds next Tuesday.  

A key challenge will be spreading the message about the program to as many people as possible, a  message that may be hard to deliver to those who don’t have use of the internet. More information on how to get started will be put on the city’s 311 phone hotline.

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