Use it or lose it: State working to spend $100M on student internet services

Many families not signed up for free internet program
Many families not signed up for free internet program(Source: WBRC)
Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 9:03 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - We’re continuing to follow state efforts to spend millions of dollars in COVID school money before the December deadline.

Governor Kay Ivey allocated $100 million specifically for the Alabama Broadband Connectivity Program which provides free internet for low income students.

It’s estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 households are eligible, but only 50,000 or so vouchers have been redeemed which means we haven’t even gotten to the halfway mark in spending.

“Obligated over $12 million at this point. That number changes daily based on the number of calls,” said Maureen Neighbors, ADECA Energy Division Chief.

The program was announced in August and officially rolled out to families in September. State leaders say one reason we haven’t made a big dent in spending is because things were cheaper than expected.

“The estimated costs when we developed the program was somewhere around $450 a household,” said Neighbors. “Much closer to $200 to $250.”

Another major reason a large chunk of money is still left is because the state is still trying to get the vouchers to families. It’s estimated about 30% of the addresses for eligible families were bad.

ADECA leaders say they’re working with state education leaders to get updated addresses to send out new vouchers, re-send vouchers to families who have not yet redeemed, and have updated the registration system so families can call to register which has made it a lot easier. Leaders say now that school is in session, they’re seeing more districts work with families to get people signed up.

Neighbors says they’re not concerned just yet about the low numbers because the program only started a month ago. She says they also plan to roll what’s called ‘Cell on Wheels’ equipment soon. Those are mobile cells to provide service in communities and that will also use a large chunk of money.

If you have questions about the program, you’re asked to call 888-212-4998.

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