In today’s world, having inexpensive internet access is critical for a student's ability to learn. However, not all students have equal access to internet at home. In fact, 15% of school-aged children in the United States do not have broadband internet access at home, and therefore cannot complete their assignments. With 70% of teachers giving online homework assignments — and especially with the rise of at-home learning due to the coronavirus pandemic — it’s imperative that students find ways to break this digital divide so they can participate equally in their education.

Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable internet options available for low-income families and students. This guide breaks down everything students need to know about inexpensive internet access, including how fast their internet should be and which providers offer the best pricing.

How Much Internet Do Students Need?

There are a wide variety of internet providers, many of which tout impressive speeds. While internet speed is certainly a factor that low-income students need to consider, the exact speed required for at-home learning may not be as high as one might think. Understanding which internet speeds are appropriate for specific activities can get confusing, and the fastest speeds are not always necessary for engaging in online learning. The following outlines what internet speeds are best for the activities required for remote learning:

·  Online Browsing: 3-4 Mbps | Ideal for online browsing, email, and basic computer programs, such as Microsoft Office

·  Submitting Assignments: 10 Mbps | Ideal for uploading assignments through an online portal

·  Video Calls: 10 Mbps | Ideal for Skype, Zoom and video webinar participation

·  Online Gaming: 25 Mbps | Ideal for gaming, HD streaming and media downloads

When considering available low-income internet options, always factor in what activities are typically required by your teacher or professor. If research and writing are what’s frequently expected, a 3-4 Mbps connection should be just fine. However, if your instructor requires video chats, a 10 Mbps connection or higher will provide the best solution. Most internet providers offer a minimum speed of 10-25 Mbps; this allows students to perform all learning activities expected of them while also gaining access to recreational activities such as online gaming, streaming and downloading media.

Low-Income Students & Public Internet

Many low-income students are forced to rely on public WiFi spots in order to complete assignments. However, this is not an ideal solution. Public internet speeds are often only capable of supporting online browsing, email and basic computer programs, with the average public WiFi speed currently at 3.3 Mbps. While this is enough to support research and writing, security issues run rampant in public settings and should not be used as a permanent solution. Especially with the rise of hacking and internet scams during the COVID-19 pandemic, students can place themselves at significant risk by relying solely on public internet for their online learning needs.

Internet scams have become more sophisticated than ever and are much easier to execute through public WiFi. For example, students could potentially fall victim to a “man-in-the-middle attack.” This is when unsuspecting victims receive a text or email that appears to be from a trusted entity, such as their bank. By clicking the link in the message they received, they are brought to a landing page that looks like it belongs to that trusted entity when in actuality it is a site that was created by a cybercriminal. After entering their credentials in the site, students will have effectively shared their sensitive information with a “man in the middle” — the person who actually is responsible for sending the message.

Sometimes using public internet is unavoidable. If that’s the case for your specific situation, be sure to only open emails and messages from trusted sources. Never provide any sensitive information, such as usernames or passwords, unless you have entered in the site name yourself and have not been directed to the site from an email or text message.

Low-Income Internet Programs for Students

The federal government and nonprofits throughout the nation provide low-income families with extra savings for their connectivity needs. These programs are formed in partnership between the internet provider and the nonprofit or government entity that supports it. They include Lifeline, EveryoneOn and Human-I-T. By applying for a program, qualifying customers can receive money toward their monthly bill as well as deep discounts on needed devices. Internet speeds will vary depending on the specific internet provider chosen through the program and the current deals they have available. The following outlines some of the programs available and how customers can take advantage of them:

ProgramHow to QualifyDiscount Provided
Lifeline | Federal Government• Income is 135% less than the federal poverty guidelines
• Participation in Federal Assistance Programs
Up to $9.95/mo. toward bill
EveryoneOn | Nonprofit• Income lower than the federal poverty guidelines
• Participation in Federal Assistance Programs
• Qualification also depends on the specific provider selected through the program
Savings vary across available internet providers, but qualifying individuals can receive as much as $19.99/mo. toward bill

Human-I-T | Nonprofit
• Income lower than the federal poverty guidelines
• Participation in Federal Assistance Programs
Customers can receive $10 – $25/mo. with no contract depending on the service provider selected

Many internet providers have their own low-income programs so students can access the internet they need even if they don’t qualify for the aforementioned programs. For example, Spectrum Internet® Assist provides high-speed internet at 30 Mbps to low-income families that participate in either the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Community Eligibility Provision of the NSLP or Supplemental Security Income.

Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Students

Internet access is a must in today’s digital world, but many students aren’t financially able to support their connectivity needs. By taking advantage of available low-income internet programs, students can gain access to the high-speed internet solutions they need without breaking their budget. Even if students aren’t able to qualify for programs through the Federal Government or nonprofit entity, internet providers all over the nation have affordable programs available for underserved community members.

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