Enabling low-income people to access the Internet, ConnectWaukegan’s goal

Achieving digital equity for residents of Northeast Lake County takes time, and ConnectWaukegan is trying to achieve that goal in part through the federally funded Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

Spun off from the Waukegan Community Broadband Task Force, ConnectWaukegan is tasked with giving as many people as possible access to the internet and began accelerating its efforts in late April when Elizabeth Ramirez became the organization’s first digital browser.

Since she started explaining ACP to people and having them check in, Ramirez said she’s had 24 people on the program who didn’t know they could potentially get internet access at little or no internet. costs.

ConnectWaukegan is now making an intensive effort to enroll and educate people, especially in Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion and the Round Lake area, about the Affordable Connectivity Program and the possibility of having low-cost or potentially free access.

Candace Browdy, a consultant at ConnectWaukegan who is also the public health navigation program coordinator for the Lake County Health Department, said everyone needs internet access for basic needs today. . People who are underfunded tend not to have such easy access.

“They need it for health care, education, social services and even groceries,” Browdy said. “If anything, COVID has increased inequality more than it was before between those who do and those who don’t.”

Although the effort began in Waukegan — thanks to community leaders including city officials, Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 administrators, people affiliated with the health department, and others — the effort extends beyond the city.

“I signed up people from Waukegan, Zion and North Chicago,” Ramirez said. “I’ve also helped people in Gurnee, Lake Zurich, Round Lake and even as far as Chicago. I helped someone from Eagle Pass, Texas.

Browdy said she explained the ACP program to residents of an apartment project in north Chicago in hopes of getting them into it. Ramirez works from the Greater Waukegan Development Coalition hub on Genesee Street in downtown Waukegan from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Ramirez, a 2018 Waukegan High School graduate who is bilingual in English and Spanish, said she explains the ACP program to people when she is not going to community gatherings to let as many people know how to get access. Low cost or even free internet. service.

People in low-income households who qualify for the ACP program receive up to $30 per month for Internet service. The money goes directly to the supplier. It can be used for home or mobile internet service, according to ConnectWaukegan records.

Anyone with a child in a school district who qualifies for a free or reduced lunch is eligible. This includes schools in Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion and Round Lake. Participants in federal assistance programs are also eligible, as well as people whose household income is 200% or less than the federal poverty guidelines.

Browdy said some programs cost less than $30 a month. Ramirez said she spends up to 150 minutes with one person to explain the program to them and work with them to complete the process. Ramirez said she won’t stop until she knows everything is working and in order.

“I start with people to explain how they qualify,” Ramirez said. “We’re not done until their benefit is applied to their bill.”

In addition to helping people get internet service, Browdy said ConnectWaukegan is also looking at other ways to improve access. Not all areas have underground cables that provide direct service. It is more prevalent in low-income areas. The organization wants to see more cables laid.

Creating free access for anyone with an electronic device – from a cell phone to a tablet to a computer – is another avenue that ConnectWaukegan is pursuing. Browdy said a signal was recently installed atop a building in the 3000 block of Grand Avenue in Waukegan.

“We’re testing it now to find out its range,” Browdy said. “It is not yet conclusive. The topography makes a difference as does the number of trees there are.

Finding a good location for a transmission device also depends on the nearby population density. Demography is also important. A school can be a good place because there are a lot of people in the neighborhood.

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