CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to close the so-called “digital divide,” Central Falls is launching a new program that provides free internet access to struggling families.

The program, called Central Falls Connect, is a localized effort to roll out the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is a resource made possible by $14.2 billion in federal funding.

The ACP is described as “a new long-term federal benefit that will help to lower the cost of broadband service and help low-income families to afford internet service.”

There are currently 3,127 ACP-eligible households in Central Falls, with 1,214 of those households currently unconnected to the internet, according to the city.

The primary reason residents are unconnected is almost always because they simply can’t afford it, according to Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera.

“This pandemic has been financially devastating to so many of our families and residents, and we want to do all we can to ensure no family is left unconnected to the internet because of the cost burden,” Rivera said.

Rivera said those who need help applying for the program can reach out to the Central Falls Office of Constituent Services.

Central Falls households that qualify for the program must have incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Residents also qualify if any member of their household:

  • Participates in certain assistance programs (SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, Lifeline, etc.)
  • Has eceived a federal Pell Grant in the current award year
  • Has received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision.
  • Meets eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.

The local initiative was made possible in part thanks to Verizon, Cox Communications and EducationSuperHighway, a national nonprofit organization.

“The Affordable Connectivity Program can connect millions of unconnected households and accelerate progress in closing the digital divide,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway.