New Study; Half of Bay Area Families Couldn’t Pay Bills Pre-COVID, More Evidence “Low Cost” Internet Won’t Close the Digital Divide

Tipping Point’s latest study proved what many of us know.  Before, during, and after the pandemic many of our families cannot afford internet.  Even at $10 a month.   Internet is the last bill you pay when it competes with food, rent, lights, water, or acute health care needs.  And as you can see below 50% of Bay Area residents can’t pay their bills at least once a year.

Mind you this was before COVID.  So, its worse now and will continue to be worse.

“Free or Low Cost Internet” is not an Answer

This matters, because the current plan for Oakland, Oakland Undivided, does not promise low income students free internet, it only promises “free or low cost internet.”  So internet companies get more customers and families get an empty promise.

Getting online is not a luxury, It is the schoolhouse door and will continue to be.  There should be no gatekeepers, and certainly not cable companies.

But that is the City and OUSD’s plan.  And again, let’s just talk reality.  What happens when you miss a payment, all these fees and charges and interest, that just keep multiplying.  And historically (they have temporarily waived these policies) if you owed money you could NOT get free or low cost internet, so will those waivers stand or will they pull the rug out on families, holding their child’s access to school hostage for some old and bloated bill. 

We owe our children more than the tender mercies of usually brutal internet companies.

On a moral level, for a kid, why is this your problem?  Because of an accident of birth, no fault of your own, you can’t get to school because you can’t get online.  Regardless of why your guardian can’t or won’t pay.  Why is that your problem?  And why don’t we solve that for them?

We can by requiring real FREE, no strings attached, internet and accepting no less from our federal, state, and local governments.

If we really are going to be Oakland Undivided, we need better answers from the City and OUSD, and not a selling out of our families to internet providers, with no ultimate guarantee of access.

Here’s the Tipping Point findings and methodology

Taking Count presents a timely snapshot of poverty in the Bay Area in the months leading up to the outbreak of COVID-19. The findings illustrate that even when the economy is strong, millions in our community—even those who aren’t considered to be living in poverty—are struggling to make ends meet. Three key learnings emerged from this research:

 • Bay Area individuals and families face financial instability and uncertainty: many Bay Area residents cannot pay ALL of their bills over the course of one year, and an alarming number of households do not have enough savings to make it through even a small emergency.

 • Black and Latinx residents are much more likely to experience poverty and hardship. No matter their income, they face far greater challenges to saving and providing for their families, and Black and Latinx children are the most affected by poverty.

• Low-wage workers don’t have access to benefits provided to higher-wage workers like sick leave and the ability to work from home—which prove to be essential during times of uncertainty. OF BAY AREA RESIDENTS CAN’T PAY THEIR 50% BILLS AT LEAST ONCE DURING THE YEAR

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