Options for Internet Access in Rental Housing

By: Abigail Gaffey

Many parents are suddenly finding themselves responsible for their children’s education at home. For most of us this is an inconvenience, but for low-resource populations it can be an impossibility. Rental property managers, particularly of apartment complexes housing families, can help by checking on the internet needs of their tenants.

Large apartment complexes, both market rate and government-assisted units, often have publicly-available wi-fi in a shared community room, but the need for social distancing may make using it an unsanitary prospect whether through congregating in one spot or touching a shared computer. A better temporary solution may be to share the internet password for the next couple of months. Another possibility would be to purchase a mobile hot spot for each floor of the building.

Some will argue that not everyone will use the wi-fi responsibly and certainly that is true, but in the interim the need for students to continue their educations, the surge in tele-health appointments that will keep people out of doctor’s offices and non-emergency hospital visits, the need for people to file for Unemployment benefits online, and shifting as many people as possible to paying bills online rather than in-person may outweigh the possibility that someone might watch a few too many YouTube videos.

If providing wi-fi is completely beyond the landlord’s budget, at a minimum landlords can let their tenants know about low-cost internet services. Several Iowa telecom companies are offering reduced-price internet start-up packages to new customers. In central Iowa, Mediacom offers the Connect2Compete package that offers high-speed internet packages for as low as $10 per month: https://mediacomcable.com/about/news/mediacom-brings-internet-access-to-low-income-students/ The same Connect2Compete program is also available to Iowans served by Cox Cable: https://newsroom.cox.com/cox_internet_changes_to_assist_students_-_remote_workers Iowans with Sparklight (formerly CableOne) are being directed to Spectrum Charter which is making 60 days of internet service free to households with student. However, it isn’t available in all zip codes in Iowa, so potential customers will need to check on available for their location: https://home.sparklight.com/news/read/category/news/article/variety-charter_offers_free_broadband_to_all_households_wi-rpenskemc

In the coming days, we may see even more companies and rural telecom providers coming up with solutions that help not just students, but also folks now working from home. An example of an innovative solution is Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company. NNTC has set up a free pandemic wi-fi. Customers can drive up to within 100 feet of one of 22 locations to connect. A mobile hotspot extender can also be used to pick up the signal farther away: https://nntc.net/nntc-response-to-covid-19-coronavirus/

One last idea property managers can explore with their tenants is working with the local school district if a tenant family is struggling with internet connectivity for their young students. These interactions may also help a property manager identify a family in crisis needing other social supports at this tenuous time.

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