BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A $100 million program to increase internet usage among low-income Alabama families during the pandemic has gone mostly unused, and the state is sending 300,000 more vouchers in a search for additional takers.
Al.com reported that the state is attempting to expand the Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students program after only 44,000 of 250,000 vouchers mailed in late August were used.
While 75,000 students have gained internet access so far through the program, which seeks to make it easier for students to get online for school, around 450,000 students qualify statewide, said Mike Presley, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
The second round of vouchers is being sent by a state contractor to increase participation.
“This second mailing, mailed last week by our contractor CTC Technology and Energy, also includes a resending of letters to households that have not redeemed a voucher sent in the first mailing earlier in September,” said Presley.
The vouchers, which are good for internet service through Dec. 30, are being made available through a $100 million allocation from federal CARES Act funding. Qualifying families are eligible to redeem vouchers worth an estimated $400 per family.
The vouchers can be used to pay for existing service or to connect new service. With high-speed internet service often unavailable across rural Alabama and in some urban areas, the funding can go toward technology including wireless hot spots.
Every district in the state is offering a remote learning option for families who are worried about contracting the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and Presley said vouchers have been used all over the state with about three dozen internet providers.
At least 2,550 people in Alabama have died of COVID-19, and more than 155,000 have tested positive for the illness. The number of new cases being reported daily in the state has been on a slow rise over the last week, statistics show.