The Obama Administration has announced 27 communities, among them Springfield and Boston, Massachusetts, will be part of a pilot program to bring high speed broadband Internet access to people living in public housing. Officials in Springfield are anxious to learn more details.
The ConnectHome initiative to expand at-home broadband access to low income families is part of a larger goal announced by President Obama in 2011 to bring high speed Internet access to 98 percent of the country’s population. It is recognition that the Internet is now essential for pursuing education and employment.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he agrees with the objectives of the program, but has many questions about its implementation.
" I am anxious to know as far as crossing the 't's and dotting the 'i's and ' show me the money'," he said.
The announcement from U.S. Housing and Urban Development said the federal government will not be providing funding for the pilot program, but will put together partnerships of private companies, nonprofits, local governments and housing authorities in each of the selected communities.
" This is about bridging the digital divide and ensuring we have economic mobility for all our citizens," said Harriet Tregoning, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development.
Sprint has agreed to provide wireless Internet access to families with school-aged children living in Springfield public housing at no charge for four years.
" It is different in different places, but Sprint is stepping up to provide it for free in Springfield," she said.
The local public library is expected to be involved in the initiative to provide digital literacy training. Internet-connected devices will also be made available. Implementation details will be worked out during a series of meetings later this year, according to Tregoning.
Tregoning expects any costs for the program will not be put on taxpayers.
" Springfield and Boston are places where there is a lot of philanthropy and we are optimistic there will be a rich array of partners that come together to help achieve the goals of this program," she said
HUD approached Springfield Housing Authority officials earlier this year to see if there was interest in the program. SHA Executive Director William Abrashkin said he is excited Springfield was picked to participate.
" It is real honor and a real opportunity and we are going to take advantage of it," he said.
Abrashkin said a survey found 75 percent of the roughly 2,300 families living in the city’s public housing developments do not have broadband access at home.
Springfield has 27 public housing developments.
HUD will require the infrastructure for high speed broadband be included in the construction of new public housing.