CenturyLink offers low-cost high-speed Internet to low-income residents

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | 8:17 p.m. CST; updated 9:06 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 29, 2012

COLUMBIA — More options for low-cost high-speed Internet will soon be available for low-income Columbia residents.

CenturyLink is introducing an Internet package priced at $9.95 per month for the first year, plus taxes and fees, for people who qualify for its Lifeline Affordable Telephone Service. CenturyLink will also hold an Internet Basics training class at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Benton Elementary School for residents needing more assistance with Internet skills. There will be a reception at 5:30 p.m., with training beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Mediacom, another area Internet provider, also has plans in the works to provide low-cost Internet to those who can't otherwise afford it.

Greg Gaffke, CenturyLink's market development manager for north Missouri, said the event at Benton is open to the public. Topics include how to access the Internet, use search engines and find information online. To attend, call 634-1704.

Those who qualify for the Internet program by Lifeline standards would not be required to get phone service, and the ability to attend the training is not contingent upon purchasing any Internet service. For more information or to see if you qualify, call 800-257-3212.

Gaffke said he chose Benton to hold the training session because he wanted to find a location where there was a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, a measure he said could allow families to qualify for the Lifeline program. The Missourian reported in 2011 that more than 90 percent of students at Benton qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches.

Mediacom does not currently have a program aimed at people in low-income situations. However, Tom Larsen, group vice president of legal and public affairs, said the company recently announced it would participate in the Connect to Compete program, which would provide Internet service for $9.95 per month for two years.

According to the program's website, Connect to Compete is a nonprofit organization that aims to increase broadband usage in low-income areas in America. 

The program would be available to families with at least one child eligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Connect to Compete will not begin nationwide until September, but Phase I programs might begin in select cities earlier in the year.

Larsen said the program was a good social agenda for Mediacom, adding that knowing how to use the Internet is good for young people.

"We don't want to create a digital divide in our country," he said.

A 2009 study by the Federal Communications Commission found that about 40 percent of Americans with household incomes less than $20,000 per year had broadband Internet access. Of people with household incomes exceeding $75,000, 91 percent had broadband.

Forty-seven percent of those in lower-income households said cost was the biggest factor preventing them from getting broadband Internet.  

Other Internet resources in Columbia:

  • Tranquility Internet services provides both wireless broadband and dial-up services. According its website, the price of its cheapest dial-up program begins at $9.95 per month.
  • Socket provides both high speed and dial-up Internet. A basic unlimited dial-up plan costs $19.95 per month, and a dial-up program that provides 40 hours of Internet access per month is $14.95 per month, according to its website.
  • The Columbia Public Library offers free public Wi-Fi and Internet-enabled desktop computers, as well as classes that address computer and Internet usage, Daniel Boone Regional Library public relations manager Mitzi St. John said.

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