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Columbus Is Getting A New Low-cost Internet Option

Internet Service Provider Starry is set to launch their service at the end of August.

When the pandemic sent everyone home and life moved online, some families were left behind.

One out of five households in Franklin County “did not have a cable modem, digital subscriber line, or fibre Internet accounts in 2019” according to the Franklin Country Digital Equity Commission (FCDEC).

Lack of digital literacy and devices are surely problems, but the cost is a big barrier to connectivity.

“Households with income below $35,000 were about one-quarter of all Franklin County households in 2019, but they accounted for nearly 70 per cent of those with no internet subscription,” according to the FCDEC.

Until August 15, Columbus residents can sign on to Starry’s Voyager Early Adoption program to receive a 50 per cent discount on fast symmetrical internet service. That’s $25 for 200 mbps upload and download. Until you move or change plans, you’ll pay only $25 a month for your internet.

When I say only $25, I really mean only $25. They have no hidden fees, that $25 sticker includes taxes, equipment and set-up and installation fees.

“Any family, it doesn’t matter what income bracket you’re in, no one wants to open up a bill and get a surprise,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, Senior Vice President at Starry.

The network is set to launch at the end of the summer across the city of Columbus. They’ll cover the city proper and some surrounding municipalities. When their network goes live, you’ll be able to view plan options for your address on their website.

“Starry’s technology is often referred to as ‘last-mile wireless’ access, meaning we do not have to tear up streets and sidewalks to bring a super-fast internet connection to the home,” Ryals said.

They have not yet announced their other speed tiers but in Boston, they have $30 and $50 options.

“The pandemic really opened our eyes about how tightly linked affordable housing and affordable home internet are,” said Carlie Boos of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio. “Both are essential for kids to excel in school, for parents to access the job market, and for families struggling with housing insecurity to easily apply for rent help from the Impact Hope Fund.”

Columbus City Schools tech map showing student access to online systems

The darker shades represent a higher percentage of households living in poverty in that area (via AECOM).

Note the correlation between communities in Columbus with high levels of poverty and areas where students at Columbus City Schools were not accessing their online portals during virtual learning. Students that weren’t able to access their virtual learning platforms might fall behind the rest of their peers that were able to stay engaged all year long.

Starry believes that everyone deserves affordable broadband access. They developed their company with the goal of introducing more competitive low-cost options to the market.

Starry’s digital equity program Starry Connect offers a $15/month 30 mbps symmetrical speed plan for public and affordable housing communities. These programs can be paid for by housing authorities or just be introduced as another offer to residents of those communities.

They are offering six-months of free service to residents of these partnerships to show they are committed to digital equity.

“With 213,000 Ohio families facing eviction right now, ensuring they have access to affordable internet to connect with pandemic relief programs has never been more critical,” said Boos. “These relationships will only grow more important as the role of technology in our lives increases, so I’m excited to see Starry’s partnerships with affordable housing providers mature and expand.”

So far, more than 30,000 public and affordable housing units have access to Starry Connect in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Washington, DC.

Starry said that often these residents aren’t even aware they’re part of a digital equity program. They have not yet announced any specific partnerships in Columbus.

“There are no data caps, no long-term contracts, no extra fees, no credit checks and importantly, no individual eligibility requirements to participate in other federal subsidy programs,” said Starry representative Mimi Ryals.

The same goes for their Voyager program and all other broadband plans with Starry. This is a lot different from most other ISP’s.

A report from AECOM conducted for the Columbus Foundation found “that the service provider(s) also imposes additional fees such as $10 per month equipment fees or onerous minimum contract terms of 2 years.”

The report determined there is plenty of coverage in Columbus, there just aren’t a lot of options, particularly low-cost options.

Most plans are $45-$100 per month, not including taxes, fees and equipment charges.

Starry hopes to bring competition to Columbus for more affordable internet options.

Often a lack of access to suitable devices and broadband leaves families with no other option but to use their phone with limited data plans or go to the library every time they need to check their email, write a school paper, file their taxes, or connect with their doctors.

Nearly 10 per cent of all households in the county only had internet access through a cellular data plan, and more than 48,000 Franklin County households had no home broadband subscriptions of any kind, according to the FCDEC.

During the pandemic, parents would take their kids to the school or library parking lots so they could get online.

Broadband is a utility that’s treated as a luxury in our economy, but the new infrastructure bill is working to close to the digital divide.

$65 billion have been allocated to connect rural communities and low-income city residents to broadband services. This is a big step toward making sure every American has access to an essential utility.