Long Beach relaxes free internet services, devices program

Some Long Beach residents, businesses and nonprofits will soon have free access to Chromebooks, internet hotspots and other digital services, the city has announced.

Long Beach’s Free Internet Services and Computing Devices Program — originally launched in 2020 with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — is back up and running again, the city said this week, albeit with a few changes.

This time around, the program will be funded by the Long Beach Recovery Act, and rather than having residents apply to the program individually, the city has partnered with nine community organizations that will distribute 1,400 Chromebooks and 1,400 internet hotspots to qualified applicants based on their technology needs.

“We had a hotline in 2020, which facilitate(d) open applications,” Long Beach’s digital equity and inclusion officer, Rebecca Kauma, said in a Tuesday, Oct. 18, interview. “But this time, we’re going directly through our community partners who have people who are already in need, and who can facilitate that separate application with their respective organization.”

Those organizations include the United Cambodian Community, Centro Community Hispanic Association, Inc., Human-IT, and the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion, among others.

The program is meant to bridge the digital divide in Long Beach. Some lack access to internet services and digital devices — which prevents them from accessing critical resources necessary for civic, social and economic experts, according to the city.

Earlier this year, Long Beach was recognized as a digital inclusion trailblazer for its work promoting digital literacy and access citywide. In the past two years, Long Beach has launched a digital inclusion resources hotline, responded to more than 2,400 inquiries, and provided residents with more than 1,000 internet hotspots and 1,500 computing devices.

More than 21,000 residents, according to the city, have been connected to digital inclusion resources via Long Beach’s programs.

The program release, according to a Tuesday press release, is part of the city’s Digital Inclusion Roadmap. That plan, originally approved by the City Council in June 2021, sets goals to ensure all Long Beach residents have access to technology.

“Getting internet services and devices into the hands of our underserved community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in the release, “is a critical component to ensuring digital equity here in Long Beach.”

Residents eligible to receive a free hotspot, the release said, will also receive one year of free internet services. Qualified businesses and nonprofits will get six months of free internet.

Program applicants, upon receiving their devices, can also enroll in free computer literacy training support services — and will receive free technical support services for one year, the release said.

Residents who still need assistance accessing internet services or devices — but who haven’t been identified by one of the nine community groups for this specific program — still have options for help, Kauma said.

Another program, dubbed the Affordable Connectivity Program, is open to all residents — though they’ll still have to meet eligibility requirements. Those who could qualify to receive up to $30 per month toward their internet service bill, along with a one-time $100 discount to help buy a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from specific providers.

More information about that program is available at human-it.org/acp/.

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