Making a necessity accessible: How Spark Jump brings broadband to those in need

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Computers in Homes participant Melissa with her girls and her refurbished computer. She says ‘at an affordable cost is the main factor’ for internet access. Spark Jump helps families like hers.

The UN has declared internet access a basic human right, but at-home internet remains out of reach for many struggling New Zealand families. In an article in The Spinoff, Madeleine Chapman talks to 20/20 Trust ‘s Stephen Carr to  learn how Spark Jump and 20/20 are attempting to bridge the digital divide. Here is a shorter version.

It’s easy to take things for granted when you’ve never lived without them. Food, shelter, clothes, and now the internet. Like smartphones, access to the internet is no longer a novelty. Ability to communicate, learn, and share with the world is now vital in a first world society.

School-aged children with no internet access

But not everybody has access to the web. At the 2013 census, over 60,000 homes with school-aged children had no internet access. And the longer a family goes without access, the higher the chance of alienation and missed opportunities, socially and financially. It’s the ‘digital divide’, the disadvantages faced by low income families without internet.

The Spark Foundation, to help these families, last year launched Spark Jump offering cheap, pre-paid broadband to young families with no internet connection. Partnering with school networks and trusts around New Zealand such as the 20/20 Trust, Spark Jump aims to provide a necessary connection to enhance children’s learning away from the school.

Learning doesn’t just happen in schools.

Learning doesn’t just happen in schools

Stephen Carr, executive director of 20/20, knows that learning doesn’t just happen in schools – learning resources at home are just as important. “All schools are funded by government to be able to provide computer technology,” he explains, “but with the evolution of cloud computing and the ability to collaborate in a variety of different ways, that’s something that goes beyond the school computer lab.” Beyond the computer lab and into the home where, for many families, the collaboration stops due to no internet.

At $15 for 30gb of data a month, the Spark Jump programme is the smallest and cheapest on the market, and yet you won’t see billboards or TV ads for it. It’s not available to everyone. Spark works with their community partners to identify families in need who might benefit from the programme. Most matches happen through primary schools in low socio-economic areas. Families are free to approach their school or community to request it, but Carr says that rarely happens. “The types of families that we work with are nervous because they’ve never had the internet before. They don’t know what it is they’re not getting.”

Victoriano’s desparation

One who sought out the programme is Victoriano, from Belmont. After being made redundant last year, Victoriano was desperate to find a wifi plan they could afford, and Spark Jump’s $15 a month just fits into their budget. “30gb a month is enough for education but we don’t use it for entertainment. Our kids don’t play online, they just use it for what they’re meant to use it for; their studies.”

Stephen Carr agrees. “You’re really going to chew through your data if you’re using it for Netflix. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about collaborating with the schools and identifying the families and making sure that they understand 30gb is quite a lot but also not that much. It’s more than adequate for the educational needs of a child or children at home, but don’t get carried away.”

However, if a family does go through their data quicker than expected, they can top up another $15 for another 30gb. Also, if there’s no room in the budget to pay the bill, there are no penalties because it’s prepay -if you don’t top it up or use it, nothing happens.

No contract, no stress

Spark Foundation logo“A lot of families struggle with the concept of a contract because they fear committing themselves to something that’s going to turn around and bite them,” says Carr, when asked why he thinks Spark chose a prepay system for their Jump programme. “By offering the prepay option (all you have to do is go to the dairy and get a voucher), they’re not expecting these families to suddenly move into a world with a credit card and bill payments.”

Benefits to children’s education often undervalued

It sounds simple enough, and very much worth it for your child’s education, but there haven’t been as many signups as they’d hoped. Carr knows this is because there are still misconceptions about just how much information is available online. “To many individuals, the internet really is just Snapchat and Facebook, so they don’t know why their child would benefit from it.”

There’s also the stigma of accepting what some might perceive to be a handout. Having worked in low income communities for many years, Carr isn’t so surprised at the lack of families lining up. “Most parents want to do the best for their kids and when they realise that they don’t have the ability to do everything they wished they could do, then there’s some regret in that.”

It’s a natural human reaction to an offer of help. That voice that says ‘what makes you think I need help?’ So for Carr, it’s not at all a product to sell, but an opportunity to educate young families on the huge benefits of online access. “It’s about working together to make sure that families understand the benefit to the child’s education and how giving them [internet] access to support their education at home can really lift their academic achievement. And having lifted that, can increase their employability and financial well-being.”

As the world steadily moves online, access to the web increases in its importance, especially to young people and their learning. Spark Jump won’t cure all societal ills or magically raise the academic levels in low income areas overnight, but it’s a start.

More information

Spark Foundation is the charitable organisation for Spark New Zealand, supporting causes that New Zealanders and Spark people feel passionate about. The foundation is also the proud owner of Givealittle, New Zealand’s most popular crowdfunding website. For more information on Spark Jump visit sparkfoundation.org.nz/sparkjump.

The 20/20 Trust is a Spark Jump partner offering Spark Jump nationwide through our digital literacy training network and libraries. Spark Jump community partners and locations on the 20/20 Digital Inclusion map.

More stories

Computers in Homes graduates are the  first Palmerston North users of Spark Jump

Spark Jump connects families with school-aged children

Case study: How Spark Jump helped Victoriano

Full article in The Spinoff