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Your View: 1 million Miami-Dade residents can’t keep living without Internet

MMaribel Martinez, regional manager of EveryoneOn © alexandermorozov.comaribel Martinez is the regional manager for EveryoneOn, a national 501(c)3 whose mission it is to eliminate the digital divide by 2020 by providing access to low-cost Internet offers, affordable laptops and tablets, and free computer training in the United States.  Email Maribel at [email protected]

Google it. Apply here. Sign-in. E-mail me.

For 42 percent of Miami-Dade County residents, these familiar phrases are a dead end, especially when it comes to mandatory online homework assignments, higher-paying jobs, and e-commerce. The Internet has become as necessary as water and electricity, but more than 1 million people in Miami-Dade County alone, largely from low-income and minority communities, have no connection at home.

At one of our recent enrollment events, I met a grandmother who is raising her teenage granddaughter alone in Miami Gardens. Each month she chooses the most affordable — and slowest — home Internet connection over purchasing two medications she needs to keep her high blood pressure and glaucoma under control. Before making this trade-off, grandmother and granddaughter were forced to wait daily for the next available computer at the North Dade Regional Library, where computer use is free but only available for two hours at a time. Extensions are granted, but if you forget to ask, all your work disappears when you hit your limit. Their library is only open until 6 p.m. most days.

Then there is John, whose story one of our partners shared with me when I joined EveryoneOn last August. John was a senior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in the fall of 2015 with his sights set on attending Bethune-Cookman University. His family couldn’t afford home Internet at all, so he ended up wandering nearby parks with free WiFi or paying to get on Metrorail each day in order to complete assignments for his mandatory online class and graduate.

During my initial interview with EveryoneOn, I was told “It’s expensive to be poor.” It is a profound statement, especially with many of the people that I meet every day in the course of my work.

I joined EveryoneOn because I believe everyone should have access to the opportunity the Internet provides. Cost should not be a barrier. Should John have to pay as much as $11.25 a week to do his homework? I don’t think so.

I joined EveryoneOn because as a former public school teacher, I was required to assign online homework to students I knew had very limited means to complete it. It is unconscionable not to try to change that.

At EveryoneOn, we work every day to make sure that all Americans have access to the Internet and its opportunities. We believe that digital inclusion requires three things: (1) affordable, high-speed home Internet service, (2) affordable devices on which to use said service, and (3) top-notch digital literacy training. Specifically, EveryoneOn does three things:

1. Negotiates with Internet Service Providers and device manufacturers to provide low-cost offers that low-income families can afford.

How much is affordable home Internet, anyway? Type in your zip code on EveryoneOn.org and see for yourself. You’ll find that our offers with well-known Internet Service providers are significantly below what you expect to pay for quality broadband speeds with the same providers. You will also see offers for low-cost devices you can purchase and locations in your community where you can obtain free computer training.

2. Helps families sign up for these offers through our website, text messaging, customer service agents, and on-the-ground events.

We also work with schools, school districts, nonprofits, and local governments to ensure our offers for in-home wired connections and portable hotspots are placed in the hands of those who need them the most.

3. Finally, we follow up and cultivate on-the-ground people and partners to help fight the digital divide.

That’s my job, along with other on-the-ground people in six states and an array of partner organizations across the country.

Since 2013, we have connected almost 200,000 low-income families. Our goal is to connect 350,000 families (an additional 1 million Americans) by the end of 2018. But we still need to do more. Much more. There are more than 60 million Americans without home Internet — about the population of Texas and California combined.

As a Miami native and resident, my goal for Miami-Dade is to set the standard of opportunity. I want our county to be the first in the nation to close the digital divide. But I need your help.

Many people don’t know that these offers exist. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your school leaders. You can learn more at everyoneon.org. Finding the offers is simple. All you need is your zip code.

Remember the grandmother in Miami Gardens?  She now pays less than $10 a month with one of our low-cost home Internet plans. Her savings allow her to pay the copay for her medications.

We believe that the Internet is for all and EveryoneOn is now in Miami to help get everyone connected. We want to end the digital divide, but we can’t do it without you. Help us spread the word about income relief through affordable home Internet. Let’s get EveryoneOn.

Your View is a recurring series of opinion pieces from members of The New Tropic community. To share your ideas, goals, and work about Miami with the community in a Your View piece, please submit it to [email protected]