Nevada Interrupted: As shift to online schooling underscores digital divide, Cox expands free internet
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Education has been forced to move online after Nevada’s schools closed, but in the world of digital schooling, children without reliable access to the internet are left behind.
In Clark County, a school district partnership with Cox Communications is in place to remedy this issue and extend internet access to students who need it. Connect2Compete, the company’s program providing internet access to low-income families who qualify for government benefits, was first established in 2012 and has been greatly expanded in the past several weeks, with the company now offering two free months of service to those in need.
“It was kind of based on national research of what were the needs for our communities across the country,” Tamar Hoapili, the community relations manager for Cox Las Vegas, said about the creation of the program. “Many families were connected through, let's say, their cell phone ... but not really connected in the home.”
Previously, in order to qualify for the program, families had to meet a multitude of conditions. In addition to having at least one K-12 student in the household and receiving government benefits, families could not have any bad debt with Cox or have been Cox customers in the 90 days prior to applying.
“Because of the pandemic, knowing that the need is out there for the students, we've made some changes,” said Hoapili.
Cox has now waived the no bad debt requirement, allowing any qualifying low-income household with students and no current Cox contract to enroll. Additionally, Cox is offering the first 60 days of service for free, has eliminated data overages, and has increased speed for current customers. After those initial 60 days, the service costs $9.95 per month.
“If we have current [Connect2Compete] customers, we are upgrading their service levels from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps,” said Hoapili. “So there's still some advantages for our current customers. They'll get higher speeds during the pandemic time.”
In order to make the application process easier for families and ensure that every household in need gets access, Cox works directly with the school district to identify homes that are eligible for service. School principals supply Cox with a list of addresses for households that fit the program, and those households are auto-approved, making it simpler for families to go through the online application process.
Hoapili clarified that Cox doesn’t get the names of any students or families, but if families at a qualified address apply, they are automatically approved for service.
While Clark is the only county in Nevada working with Cox, other county school districts are recommending resources for families in need of internet access. Washoe County is recommending families contact Charter or AT&T, which is providing low-income households with unlimited internet for $10 a month.
In addition to the Connect2Compete program, Cox has made additional efforts to assist families in the face of the pandemic. While on-the-ground technicians are no longer allowed to enter homes to provide support, they will drive to homes to assist over the phone or from a safe distance. Cox has also opened more than 3,000 public wi-fi hotspots in Southern Nevada in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge.
This story was updated at 1:00 p.m. on April 7, 2020 to correct a misstatement made by Hoapili, who had said restrictions for current Cox customers have been lifted. These restrictions are still in place.