Most of us tend to take access to technology and information for granted. But what about those without access to these modern conveniences? What about people who can’t afford smartphones, expensive data plans, people with limited resources, those who’ve fallen on hard times, or people who regularly travel from place to place?
An estimated 100 million Americans do not have access to the Internet at home. Information on almost anything can be accessed via search engine, but only if you can get at the Internet. Job opportunities oftentimes require some form of online application, and social media has proven to be a major factor in the business world.
Many people agree: in today’s technology-dependent world, access is a right, not a privilege. But for those who travel with no set place of residence, people afflicted by poverty and adversity, and participants in adult social service and youth programs, access to the Internet can be difficult, if not impossible, to attain—creating even more hardship for the already disadvantaged.
The good news? There is hope. There are a number of programs out there that offer opportunities for all people to access technology and the Internet. Connect2Compete is one such program. This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing every American, regardless of socioeconomic status, the ability and opportunity to gain access to technology and to the Internet. The idea behind this concept is that everyone, including the technology providers, will benefit from allowing ALL people, not just the privileged, access to the Internet.
MiFi: The Freedom To Connect
Imagine what it would be like if you could connect to the Internet, anytime and anywhere, without having to find a local hotspot. No more cheap coffee; no more crowded fast food joints. Wouldn’t it be convenient to hold a business meeting anywhere, regardless of WiFi availability, and still be able to connect everyone’s devices? The freedom to do so is already available, and it’s called MiFi.
MiFi is a beautiful and convenient device that creates a mobile hotspot anywhere there’s mobile service. Most MiFi devices are very affordable for many people, with plenty of options to choose from. However, these devices are currently available through various cell phone providers and require data plans to operate. This is a great option for business and travel solutions, but they’re oftentimes more expensive than they’re worth, especially for those who already own a smart device. And what about those who can’t afford MiFi, let alone a smart device?
Connect2Compete offers extremely affordable data plans for phones, computer access, and MiFi options. In many cases, access to these services is free (after purchasing the hardware). The hardware itself is also affordably priced and there are plenty of other solutions available for those who cannot afford to pay.
The MiFi devices provided by Connect2Compete are pretty interesting. These small, portable, battery powered or rechargeable devices connect to 3G and 4G mobile networks, providing WiFi access via a mobile hotspot. Connect2Compete offers free plans as well as monthly pay as-you-go plans. If you choose one of the free plans, you must then purchase the device, which is priced anywhere from $30 to $60. Again, affordability is the point here.
I decided to test how well this free program works. The device shipped quickly and the setup was pretty easy. However, once set up, I couldn’t connect to the Internet. No connection to a mobile network; no Internet. Turns out, the device uses Sprint’s old 4G WiMAX mobile network. WiMAX is actually being phased out completely in favor of the current LTE network. So, faced with an incredibly limited coverage map, my device was virtually useless here in Milwaukee. Word is, Connect2Compete is working to offer more MiFi options, including devices compatible with 4G LTE.
Even though the development for much of this technology isn’t up to par yet, it still provides some amazing potential. The Internet is absolutely a right, not a privilege, and everyone should have access.
Organizations and programs like Connect2Compete still have a way to go before they can really start changing the availability of technology, but there’s a growing list of options. Even the large telecommunications companies like Time Warner and AT&T offer arrangements that provide low cost Internet access. There’s even a federal program, Lifeline, that provides free or very affordable mobile phones for people in need. Of course, these plans are limited in talk and text options, but they allow people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to maintain a connection to information and technology.
All of this is truly great news. Everyone benefits when we all have access to technology and to the Internet. More people with access means more freedom and opportunities for all of us.