LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Mayor Eric Garcetti today announced a new initiative designed to deliver six months of free internet access to residents in four public housing communities across Los Angeles, making low-cost, high-quality broadband options available to 9,000 people in nearly 3,600 housing units.
The initiative stems from a partnership between the Mayor's Office of Budget and Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, Starry Internet, and Microsoft Corp., a city statement reported.
“COVID-19 has reinforced what was already a clear and unmistakable fact: internet connectivity is not a luxury in our time -- it's an absolute necessity for parents trying to work, students looking to learn, and families and friends seeking to communicate,'' Garcetti said. “With Starry and Microsoft lending their resources and expertise, our city's public housing residents will no longer find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, but fully connected to their classrooms and to the opportunities of the 21st century.''
With so many Angelenos staying safer at home and nearly all students logging into their classes online, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical need to bring reliable and affordable internet access to all Angelenos to support virtual learning, facilitate remote work for employees, and expand telehealth resources, according to the city statement.
In the city's view, the absence of Internet access in underserved communities “exacerbates the existing challenges for lower income communities already caused by the digital divide.'' In Los Angeles, Black and Latino households are only one-third as likely as White households to have internet, with the elderly four times less likely to be connected, according to the city, which says more than 30% of Watts households do not have a broadband subscription.
The partnership announced today builds on the work of the mayor's monthly Telecommunications and Digital Equity Forum, the city said, adding it will provide participating public housing residents -- including the city's lowest income households and most lacking affordable broadband options – with six months of free Starry Connect service. After this initial phase, service will continue for just $15 a month, according to the city statement.
In June 2020, Starry provided free internet connectivity to residents at Mar Vista public housing, committing to provide its Connect service to residents for free until the end of the year. Now, Microsoft's Airband Initiative will provide grant funding to accelerate construction and deployment of Starry's broadband access technology and ultra-low-cost broadband access program to four more Housing Authority communities in South Los Angeles: Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, and Pueblo del Rio.
Microsoft's support for expanding affordable broadband through its Airband Initiative is part of its larger equity and social justice commitments to address racial injustice and inequity for the Black community in the United States, the city said.
“Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century and powers much of our modern lives,'' said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. “But not everyone has access to this vital connection. If we fail to bring it to more people, we risk widening, not closing the digital divide. This partnership with the City of Los Angeles and Starry is an important step towards ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access today*s essential online services.''
Starry co-Founder and CEO Chet Kanojia added: “We built our company on the basic belief that everyone deserves access to affordable, high-quality broadband no matter where you live. In the United States, standalone broadband costs rank among the highest in the developed world and for many families, remains out of financial reach. If it isn't abundantly clear by now, you can't work and learn from home if you don't have access to affordable, high-quality broadband.
“We created Starry Connect to provide an ultra-low-cost broadband option to meet the connectivity needs of public and affordable housing communities long ignored by incumbents. Our partnership with Microsoft helps us rapidly expand our Connect footprint in public housing communities and we're proud to kick off this collaboration in Los Angeles. Closing the digital gap is a first critical step to ensuring that all our communities have the opportunity to fully participate in digital life and the benefits it confers.''
The city did not immediately provide details on the logistics pertaining to the new initiative.
Photo: Getty Images