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City Offers Free Internet Access, Computers to Low-income Households

By Wendell Hutson | April 17, 2013 7:00am | Updated on April 17, 2013 2:38pm

AVALON PARK — A little more than a year ago, Sharon Bryant moved from public housing and into her own apartment in Englewood.

Bryant said she owes it all to the Internet.

"I never really knew much about the Internet, so I didn't bother to learn how to use it until I needed a job," said Bryant, 22. "That's when I discovered that most jobs require that you submit your resume or fill out an application online. And if you don't know how to log onto the Internet, you're in trouble."

Growing up in the Harold Ickes public housing complex, and later living in the Dearborn Homes public housing complex, both on the South Side, Bryant said Internet use was not a priority to her.

She became more digital savvy after getting assistance from the Chicago Housing Authority's Technology Lab at its Lake Parc Place apartment building, 3983 S. Lake Park Ave., where she now works as a computer lab supervisor for the agency's vendor, TEC Services Consulting Inc.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed to Bryant as "a great example of what happens when opportunities are opened up to those who need them the most" during a Tuesday news conference at the Avalon Branch Chicago Public Library, where he announced a digital pilot program, Everyoneon.

"There are more Sharons out there waiting for their chances, and they will have that chance thanks to the city partnering with others," Emanuel said.

The pilot program aims to provide free or low-cost Internet access to low-income households in designated ZIP codes.

Access to the program is based on median income, and parents with children receiving free or reduced school lunches would qualify automatically, said Zach Leverenz, chief executive officer of Connect 2 Compete, the nonprofit organization administering the program.

"We used census data to determine which ZIP codes were eligible, and if a person lives in a ZIP code not eligible for free service, we would match them with an Internet provider they could afford," Leverenz said. "Teachers cannot assign homework [sometimes] because most of their students might live in households with no computers or Internet service."

Free computers and other technology equipment also are available to eligible households. Eligibility can be determined via Connect 2 Compete's website.

According to Emanuel, 1.1 million Chicago households have been deemed eligible for the pilot program.

"That's about 40 percent of the residents of Chicago," Emanuel said. “Digital skills are 21st century work force skills, making digital literacy training and affordable access to high-speed Internet service game changers for children and adults."