(TNS) — An estimated one in six households in the region do not have internet service during a global pandemic when people are depending on the web like never before.
With Ohioans ordered to shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, residents with service can’t go online to work, learn, access health care or shop from home.
Residents most likely to lack internet service include vulnerable community members, such as the poor and the elderly, officials say.
“For those clients without internet access, it definitely impedes their ability to fully engage with virtual programming opportunities,” said Jenny Bonifas, senior director of vocational services with Goodwill Easterseals Miami Valley.
About 710,000 households in Ohio, including about 102,000 in the seven-county Miami Valley region, do not have any internet service at home, according to data from the 2018 U.S. Census American Community Survey and Connected Nation Ohio’s analysis of broadband availability.
About 71% of households in Butler, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties subscribe to a fixed broadband service, Connected Nation says, while overall 83.5% get internet from broadband providers or satellite service, mobile phones or some slower types of connections.
Without internet, people can’t access online education, work from home, get current news about the virus and order food and products when stores and restaurants are closed, said Tina Lyden, state director of Connected Nation Ohio, which is focused on increasing Internet access and adoption in the state.
The coronavirus crisis “has affected almost everything we do,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, Dayton-area residents who do not have internet at home could visit local recreation centers, libraries, various public buildings, coffee shops or fast-food restaurants to get access.
But most places offering free Wi-Fi or public computers have been shut down to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order.
In 2018, two-thirds of Ohio households without broadband had household incomes below $35,000, and nearly half had incomes below $20,000, according to a post from Bill Callahan, research and policy director for the Columbus-based National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
The monthly costs of a home Internet connection is at least $60 to $70 each month, he said, which is unaffordable for some Ohioans.
Some internet providers are offering cheaper plans during this crisis to try to help lower-income residents stay connected, according to the alliance.
Parents who don’t have internet at home can get free broadband, including installation, from Spectrum for 60 days to help families impacted by the coronavirus, the company announced. To sign up, call (844) 488-8395. Spectrum serves all of southwest Ohio.
Some local organizations also are coming up with creative ways to expand internet access to more households.
This week, David Cranford stopped by the Goodwill Easterseals facility to borrow a computer to apply for jobless benefits.
Cranford, 55, of Dayton, recently was laid off from his job as a dishwasher at Golden Nugget. The pancake house shut down to comply with the state’s stay-at-home order.
Cranford said he never uses the internet and doesn’t own a computer. He said he’s not interested with what the digital world has to offer.
“I don’t know how to work this thing,” he said. “I don’t know how to use the internet”
Goodwill Easterseals’ computer labs have served more that 250 people in the past two weeks, most of whom don’t have broadband or computers at home, though some have smartphones, said Bonifas, with the organization.
For many clients, Goodwill Easterseals’ computer lab is the only opportunity they have to access a computer, she said.
“For many of the clients we are serving right now, the lack of technology, equipment and internet create a perfect storm and create barriers at such a critical time,” she said.
©2020 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.