Getting high-quality, low-cost internet access for work or online classes has been a challenge for Los Angeles’ poorest residents, especially during this pandemic.
“Some 300,000 Angelenos do not have access to the Internet, and a minimum of 600,000 are connected via wireless access points, phones and tablets, according to recent US census data,” said Hernan Galperin of USC’s Annenberg School. He has published studies which conclude that the major internet providers have did not invest in broadband access for black and Latino residents of Los Angeles, regardless of their income level.
Some schools and employers have distributed mobile wireless hotspots, and some major Internet service providers have made available free, low-cost plans that provide a lower level of access than the standard.
Now, some 3,600 households in four Los Angeles social housing communities will have access to free Wi-Fi for six months and pay $ 15 per month if they want to maintain it.
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Imperial Courts in Watts is the first to be connected, with installations taking place later this month. Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Pueblo del Rio will follow, with the aim being for students to have free or low cost internet access to complete the school year.
The project brings together the city of Los Angeles and Internet service provider Starry, with a grant from Microsoft to speed up the installation of equipment and cabling.
Here is another useful feature of the agreement. To qualify, there is no credit check or eligibility requirement to prove low income (such as participation in SNAP food stamps, reduced price, or free school meals). Anyone with an address in one of the four social housing communities can get the service
FREE INTERNET AND $ 15 PER MONTH – WHAT IS IT?
Starry offers a different kind of internet called landline wireless. The company installs base stations on utility poles or buildings that transmit Internet signals up to 1.5 km (about 9 / 10th of a mile). The signals are picked up by receivers installed on the roofs of buildings. From there, coaxial cables run from rooftop receivers to Internet routers in single-family homes.
Fixed wireless Internet is less expensive to install than traditional broadband because the business does not have to dig streets or sidewalks to route the signal to homes.
And it can work better than wireless access points that sometimes cannot penetrate the cinder block construction used for social housing complexes.
IS THE $ 15 PER MONTH SERVICE GOOD / BAD?
Starry has focused on serving residents of public housing communities and large apartment complexes. He’s been in the Los Angeles area for about two years, his standard service costs $ 50 a month. This standard service provides a customer with downloads of 200 megabits per second (mbps) and the same download speed.
What Starry offers public housing tenants is a lower speed – 30 megabits per second for downloads and the same speed for downloads. It’s called Starry Connect. After the six months of free service, residents can keep the 30 mbps service for $ 15 per month or upgrade to the faster 200 mbps for $ 50 per month.
Obviously, 30 Mbps is not as fast as the standard service.
But Starry’s 30 mpbs speed is for both uploads and downloads. Which is better than some of the low cost internet that offer 25mbps downloads (fine for streaming) but only 3mbps for downloads which is slow for things like Zoom work or classroom lectures.
This is where Starry may be a better choice than some of the other internet services marketed to low income families.
An address search for State Utilities Commission card for broadband service shows that for the Imperial Gardens community, Starry’s 30mbps for uploads and downloads would be an improvement over what AT&T offers for uploads and downloads. But it’s not as fast as Charter’s 940 Mbps upload and 35 Mbps upload service.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly describes the unit of internet speed offered in megabytes, but it’s actually megabits.