By Ural Garrett
WATTS — Residents of four Los Angeles county public housing communities in Watts will receive six months of free internet access under a prtnership announced last week between the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, Boston-based internet service provider Starry Internet and Microsoft Corp.
The partnership will provide low-cost, high-quality internet for nearly 9,000 residents in the Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts and Pueblo del Rio housing projects in an effort to close the digital divide.
In Los Angeles alone, Black and Latino households are only one-third as likely as white households to have internet connection. More than 30% of Watts households currently are without broadband subscriptions, according to statistics cited during the announcement.
The new program is part of the city’s larger Get Connected Los Angeles initiative which grants free hotspots and devices at local libraries alongside upgraded computer labs and training centers in areas served by the housing authority
As many Los Angelenos stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, being connected to the internet is more important than ever according to Garcetti.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Starry’s broadband technology and ultra-low-cost access program will receive grant funding from Microsoft’s Airband initiative in order to expand into the four public housing communities. Following the six-month period, service through Starry’s Connect service will cost $15 a month.
Mar Vista Gardens, a Culver City public housing community, already received free internet connectivity through the initiative in June. Mar Vista resident Relaine Jones is already appreciative of the free service that will last there until the end of the year.
“I think it’s amazing,” Jones said. “I see all of this as a gift. I want to thank everyone who had anything to do with giving us this kind of access because it’s so important.”
Jones, a stay-at-home mother and small business owner of a credit clean-up company, said she paid around $160 a month for Spectrum internet that wasn’t very reliable.
“It’s not like we can afford a whole lot of stuff around here like another bill,” she explained. “We would also have virtual school and would run into problems frequently.”
The mother of four has one school age child living with her and frequently gets visits from her adult children. Utilizing Starry’s Connect service means her family can run multiple devices without any problems for tasks ranging from classroom work and business running to doctors appointments.
“Think about it, we really can’t go to the doctor anymore so a lot of appointments are done on Zoom now,” Jones said. “Zoom is everything down to my kid’s school and religious services. I’m starting my small business so it’s important to have those things. Just imagine the chaos if we didn’t have it, especially during this crisis.”
Los Angeles residents looking for local free and low-cost internet service can visit the Get Connected Los Angeles website.