LONGMONT, Colo. – The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that internet access is a privilege.
“It’s the most important thing I think we have right now, and everybody deserves to be connected and stay connected during this critical time,” Valerie Dodd said.
Dodd is the executive director of NextLight – a city utility that's owned by the community. It provides 100% fiber gigabit internet service. In other words, it’s a reliable network with tremendous capacity and speeds so fast, you can download a movie in seconds. It's something that’s extremely valued in today’s COVID-19 pandemic world.
“It truly is a lifeline for people," Dodd said. "It’s a way for people to not only stay connected to their family and their friends in this very isolating period of time otherwise, it also provides people access to a lot of valuable information about how to stay safe, it provides entertainment, and it provides people a means of work.”
However, a gap persists between people who can and can’t afford the service – leaving many minority families without internet during this unprecedented time. Therefore, NextLight came up with a plan to get internet into more homes than ever before.
“We have an offer that’s two months of free internet for customers that are new to us, as well as customers that qualify. And the qualifications are just you need to participate in one or another program,” Dodd said.
These programs include free and reduced school lunches, low-income energy assistance, and utility bill assistance. Maria – a mother of three – just got internet for the first time a couple days ago. She says her family felt overwhelmed when they got word of the stay-at-home orders.
"Que vamos a hacer? Cuando comenzo todo esto fue dificil,” Maria said. (Translation: What are we going to do? When all this started everything was difficult)
Maria stopped working so she could care for her children, forcing them to lose a chunk of their income. Her husband was impacted too.
“Mi esposo obviamente se le tuvieron que bajar horas de trabajo. Y pues ya vi que tieno uno que seguir con los gastos, y pagar biles y todo. Si, ha sido un poco dificil.” (Translation: My husband obviously was required to drop hours at work. And we knew we still had to keep up with expenses and pay bills and everything. Yes… it’s been a little difficult.)
To make matters worse, they didn’t have any internet, so it was extremely difficult for the kids to do their schoolwork. She says they would take turns using data on her phone, or they’d walk up to the school to get within its Wi-Fi network. Now that they have internet with NextLight, Maria says she plans to continue the service even after the pandemic is over.
“Pienso que pues es algo que necesitamos y tuvimos que pagar,” Maria said. (Translation: I think it’s something that’s necessary to pay for.)
Maria says reliable internet has already had a large impact on the family. They’ve been able to pay bills and rent with ease. They’ve also started watching movies on Netflix as a family. They’ve appreciated more family time, but she says this pandemic lifestyle is unsustainable economically.
“[Espero] Que ya se termine todo. Que es mas tranquilo por la economia tambien del pais porque necesito trabajar.” (Translation: I hope that this all ends. That things are calmer and the economy and country get better… because I need to work.)
NextLight says it will continue to offer deals to low-income families and families currently struggling financially from the pandemic, until this is all over.
“We know that some people don’t have internet and haven’t been able to afford it in the past," Dodd said. "The digital divide still exists. As long as there’s a need, as long as there’s a lot of people incurring and enduring financial hardships, we’re going to be here to support them and make sure that they stay connected.”
If you live in the Longmont community and would like to donate to people who can't afford internet access, click here.