The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Coronavirus Underscores Great Need to Expand Broadband Access across the Delta--Spring, 2020

Posted on April 23, 2020 at 11:00 AM

The coronavirus is highlighting the Greater Delta Region’s inadequate access to broadband, as many people who are told to work from home cannot do so because they can’t get online from home or experience other difficulties due to lack of broadband access.

Tele-Medicine, Tele-Health, Tele-Education, etc. are very helpful in this crisis, but people without access to the Internet cannot use them. We must drive home the urgent need that access to the Internet is a right nowadays for everybody.

For immediate help right now, those lacking access to the Internet can call 211 centers or other resources for people who only have access to telephones right now.

Greater Delta Region ranks at the bottom among regions in connectivity:

There are several ranking systems; this one from Broadbandnow in 2018 had Mississippi and Arkansas as two of the three lowest ranked states and six of the Delta states among the bottom 15 in the country in connectivity:

· Mississippi 49th, · Arkansas 48th, · Missouri 42nd, · Alabama 41st, · Louisiana 36th · Kentucky 35th.

In many areas the higher rates of poverty, relatively older populations, and lack of access to health care place the Delta at disproportionately higher risk to the pandemic.

For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Social Vulnerability Index regarding the coronavirus indicated that 45.4% of the population of Arkansas live in census tracts that are at higher risk for the virus.

Broadband deserts have formed in the region because internet companies are reluctant to invest in extending broadband lines to far-flung rural areas with low populations. It’s expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to those areas, and it’s difficult to turn a profit without a large customer base. State, government, corporation and foundation resources will need to be employed to address this gap.

An example of the challenges is the plight of Quitman County School District in Mississippi, where 100% of the students have free or reduced lunch and have had to improvise during this period without school time. In late March school authorities estimated that at least 30% of the district’s children are without Internet. The district began sending home two weeks of hard copy lessons when students picked up their to-go lunch in March. Buses delivered the materials to the most remote areas. Many other school districts face similar challenges across the region.

Resources To Call and Request Support—(information provided from ConnectedNation and other private sector sources, USDA Rural Development, and other state and federal sources):

We provide a list of contacts below with resources on expanding access to broadband in rural areas or economically distressed areas, both of which have challenges in getting broadband access; a separate section provides information about organizations that can help people who do not have access to the Internet and have to rely on telephone for communications currently.

We will start by referring to two federal programs, USDA Rural Connect and the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Please contact your members of the US House and Senate and ask them to increase funding for these programs.

Contact information to seek assistance from these organizations directly is below:

USDA Rural Connect—1-202-720-0800;

This program helps fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. Eligible applicants include most state and local governments, federally-recognized Tribes, nonprofits and for-profit corporations.

The USDA has announced a second window for applications for Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants, often used to develop or expand connected health programs in areas where access to care is difficult. While the first window for applications runs through April 10, the new window – during which only online applications will be accepted - will run from April 14 through July 13.

Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund; 1-888-225-5322;

· FCC Launched a $20 Billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund To Expand Rural Broadband Deployment Description: Represents FCC’s Largest Investment Ever to Close Digital Divide.

For low-income people or those in rural areas who do not have access to the Internet and need to rely on telephone numbers for immediate needs like food, housing, medicine, etc.:

Note—these are not contacts for investing in long-term broadband expansion, but rather for people who lack broadband access right now and need telephone numbers to seek immediate aid.

211 system–In most areas people can dial 211 to get access to the local Help-Line Center, which can then provide information about the appropriate organizations that can help with various issues such as food, housing, medicine and other immediate needs.

In Missouri, Covid-19 Public Health Hotline is 1-877-435-8411. This hotline can get people in touch with a variety of resources to help during the pandemic.

Louisiana 211 is a single access point for every day needs and in times of crisis including information including low cost internet services. Go to or simply dial 211 when in Louisiana

Alabama– 211 Connects Alabama For assistance please call 2-1-1 in Alabama or the toll free number at (888) 421-1266.

Mississippi– United Way of Mississippi—a starting point for those who do not have access to the Internet who need food, medicine, housing or other help is 1-866-472-8265, For assistance please call 2-1-1

West Tennessee: People in the local area can call 211 or (901) 415-2790.

Kentucky: People in Kentucky can call 211 for their local Help Center. They can also find information at United Way of Kentucky at (502) 589-6897

Southern Illinois—People in Illinois can call 211, and the United Way of Southern Illinois is (618) 997-7744

Arkansas—Call 211 or 1-866-489-6983.

New broadband office in Arkansas—Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently established this office in Arkansas. They have a grant program for long-term goals of expanding broadband access in the state.

Arkansas State Broadband Office: Nathan Smith, 501-766-4476 or or Clint Moore at 501-682-5917 or

Other key resources:

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a Coronavirus hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO And the website is

—Private sector entity with resources regarding broadband access

Broadband Now—

Connected Nation—Connected; 1-877-846-7710. lists Internet providers.

University of Arkansas Medical Services has a variety of information about Tele-Health, Tele-Medicine And other health care resources: or (501) 603-1280.

Update from private sector sources: In response to COVID-19 developments, some internet providers are offering free services to low-income families and households with students.

Free Comcast Xfinity internet Comcast Xfinity is currently offering its Internet Essentials program free for two months to new customers. The internet provider is also automatically increasing speeds for all Internet Essentials customers. Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are also open and free to use by anyone.

Free internet for students from Charter Spectrum Households with students K–12 or university students can sign up for a new Charter Spectrum internet account to get the first two months of internet with speeds up to 100 Mbps for free. Installation fees will be waived for those who qualify for the offer. Call 1-844-488-8395 to enroll.

Spectrum Wi-Fi hotspots are also currently open and free to use.

Free internet for students from Altice Altice internet providers Suddenlink and Optimum are offering 60 days of free internet service for households with K–12 or college students. Internet speeds are up to 30 Mbps if you do not already have access to a home internet plan. To sign up, call 866-200-9522 if you live in an area with Optimum internet service, or call 888-633-0030 if you live in an area with Suddenlink internet service.

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge On March 13, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge to ensure that Americans would continue to be able to access the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 650 companies across the country have signed the pledge, agreeing to these terms until mid-May:

Service to any residential or small business internet customers will not have service terminated due to missed or late payments due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Any late fees incurred due to late or missed payments caused by COVID-19 disruptions will be waived.

All public Wi-Fi hotspots operated by the provider will be free and open for anyone who needs them.

There are government subsidies that can help with your internet bill, and many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-income internet programs. These inexpensive internet plans, income based programs, and low-income family plans help reduce the cost of staying connected.

Search Tool for low Cost Internet Service and Devices—thanks to Connected Nation for providing this information:

· provides a short form to help establish eligibility for low-cost internet and devices (laptops and desktops) and locate companies based on your ZIP code. This can be found at

· Connected Nation’s COVID-19 resource page provides links to low-cost and free internet resources

· The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) provides a list of free and low cost plans. Some may or may not be available in the Delta region

Providers with Low-cost Programs

· Access from AT&T - is offering two months of free service as well as $5 a month and $10 a month plans (plus tax), based on speed, for new customers who order before April 30. It also expands eligibility based on income (household income based on 135 percent or less than the federal poverty guidelines) and participation in the National School Lunch Program/Head Start and is waiving all home internet data overage fees. This pdf provides additional details, including how to enroll, or simply call 1-855-220-5211 (English) or 1-855-220-5225 (Spanish). Additionally, visit to enroll.

· The Internet Essentials program from Comcast offers low-cost internet ($10 a month) and is currently offering the first two months free of charge in response to the coronavirus emergency. You can find details here: . Internet Essentials also offers low-cost computers (laptops and desktops) to Internet Essentials participants visit to learn more.