Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Problem

The problem with a city like Hoover is that we have several entities providing internet access.  Some wouldn't call that a "problem", but in this case, it is, as it makes finding the difference makers a little difficult.

At first I tried the direct method:  contact the providers (Charter Communications, AT&T, Bright House Networks) directly via the phone numbers provided online.  I would always end up in the same place:  the Philippines and their wonderful customer service department (sarcasm font should be on for the latter part of this sentence).

My next step was to contact our city leaders and ask for their help in finding out who the right people to talk to might be.  I sent out the following e-mail on August 9, 2011:

Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2011 2:50 PM
Subject: Low Income Family Internet Access

To:     Andy Craig, Superintendent, Hoover City Schools
        Gene Smith, City of Hoover Council Member
        Brian Skelton, City of Hoover Council Member
        John Greene, City of Hoover Council Member

From:   Robin F. Schultz
Subject:         Low Income Family Internet Accesscc:     Paul DeMarco, Alabama State Representative
        Susan Wood, Child Nutrition Coordinator, Hoover City Schools
        Jason Gaston, Hoover City Schools
        Earl Cooper, President, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
        Paulette Person, Vice-President, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
        Bill Veitch, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
        Donna Frazier, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
        Dr. Ronald Braswell, Hoover City Schools Board of Education
        Dr. David Fancher, Principal, Bluff Park Elementary School
        Allen Pate, City of Hoover
        Lori Salter, City of Hoover
        Janice Rogers, WBRC
        Jon Anderson, Birmingham News
        Adrian Mitchell, PR PIE IBS, Birmingham City Schools


Dear Mr. Craig, Mr. Smith, Mr. Skelton, Mr. Greene:

I read a story yesterday about Comcast Cable, a national cable television provider, that was offering discounted internet access to low income families in their service area.  Basically, families that met a certain criteria were able to have internet access in their homes for a $10 monthly fee with a guarantee of no future increases, free equipment and discounts on netbooks, plus free training for those who want it.

You can read the story here:
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2390592,00.aspAs you may or may not know, I teach Sunday School at my church.  The age group that I teach are high school juniors and seniors.  Some of my students fall under the low-income category.

Hoover City Schools has recently converted to an online registration process where parents go on the internet and complete the school registration process using their computer. In the past this process consisted of filling out countless forms by hand.  The new system saves not only time, but also resources, since the school no longer has to print all of these forms, nor sort them, nor have long lines of parents and students during registration.  This year's process was, in one word, flawless.  Except for those who don't have a computer or internet access at home.  Hoover City Schools did provide computers at the school for them or they could go to the library, or to a friend's house (or, in the case of one of my students, their Sunday School teacher's house) to register.

During the school year, much of the student's workload requires internet access, not only for project research, but also for everyday homework.  Many teachers use their school's web  page to get information to their students.  And let's face it, Facebook and e-mail has become one of our primary ways to communicate.  I send out weekly messages to my students on Facebook, Hoover City Schools has a Facebook page, and so do many businesses.  But what about those who can't afford $30-$50 per month for internet access?  In today's economic climate, that is becoming more and more common.  According to Ms. Wood, Child Nutrition Coordinator at Hoover City Schools, 21% of Hoover City Schools students are on the free or reduced lunch program.  That's 1 out of every 5 students.

I would like to reach out to Charter Cable, ATT and Brighthouse Cable, the three companies that provide the majority of broadband access in the city of Hoover, and ask them to offer the same program as Comcast does - a $10 discounted rate.  The criteria could be any family who has a student on free or reduced lunch would qualify.  According to Ms. Wood, these students are given a letter each year (and, if I'm not mistaken, they need to re-qualify each year) indicating that they are on the program.  They could use this letter as proof of eligibility.

Here's the reason as to why I am sending this e-mail to you:  I don't have a problem going to the companies myself and asking them for their assistance in this.  I do have a problem knowing who the contacts are.  I've attempted to call the local offices and I'm always redirected to customer service, which is located in the Philippines.  Unfortunately the nice folks in the Philippines don't know where to direct me.  I am asking your help in getting to the right people who can make this happen.  If I have contact information, I can take care of the rest (of course, if you'd like to assist, I wouldn't turn you down!).

Thanks for your help in this matter.  I hope to hear from you soon - and so do the families of over 2,700 students in Hoover.
Many of the recipients and those who I cc: replied right away.

On Monday, August 15 I received the contact names that I needed.  Next step was to go directly to them.

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