As the Internet Society (ISOC) highlighted in its Policy Framework for Enabling Internet Access, access to the Internet and economic inequality are closely linked. This is why initiatives like The Connected Homes program in Costa Rica are so important to developing the Internet ecosystem.
Connected Homes seeks to fight economic inequality by lowering unequal access to computers and broadband. Even though Costa Rica has one of the highest rates of Internet penetration in Latin America, poor, indigenous, and socially marginalized communities still have low rates of access.
As of 2015, 49.4% of Costa Ricans had Internet access, but only 19% of the poorest households had access (ENAHO, 2015). This is because many do not have access to affordable Internet-enabled devices or a reliable Internet connection in their homes. Furthermore, many households without access do not see the relevance or benefits that come with Internet connectivity.
Initiated by the Presidential Social Council of Costa Rica in 2015, the Connected Homes program brings together government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and telecommunications companies to provide subsidized, affordable Internet service, computer resources, and software licenses to the unconnected households that are most in need. The initiative also provides training in digital literacy and seeks to expand the reach of e-government applications.
The goal of the initiative is to provide connectivity and economic opportunity to households below the poverty level with an emphasis on indigenous, differently abled, female-headed, and self-employed households. Between 2016 and 2021, the program will invest US$128 million in covering the cost of computers and a two megabit per second (Mbps) Internet connection. Depending on income and specific needs, the initiative provides a subsidy, which offers discounts between 40 percent and 80 percent on Internet service.
Since the program’s launch in June 2016, more than 4,000 families have been connected to the Internet. Over the next three years, 140,000 laptops will be distributed to low-income families as well. By 2021, the program aims to cover more than 15 percent of Costa Rican households, especially ones that are not already connected.
The Connected Homes program seeks to provide unconnected households with the necessary tools to take advantage of computer and Internet access. The goal of connectivity is to reduce poverty and economic inequality by extending the benefits of connectivity and computer literacy to low-income, female-headed households, indigenous communities, the elderly, and different abled. ISOC is a strong supporter of initiatives like the Connected Homes program that creatively provides access to unserved and underserved communities, and will continue to spotlight programs and initiatives helping to connect the next billion to the Internet.