From an article by Madeleine Chapman on The Spinoff.
The UN has declared internet access a basic human right, but at-home internet remains out of reach for many struggling New Zealand families.
For most of last year, a Belmont family took regular visits to their nearest McDonalds. Not for a delicious dinner or all-day breakfast, but to send important emails and check TradeMe listings. Free wifi in public places is always a pleasant surprise, but for Victoriano and his family, it became a resource to depend on. With no internet at home and four school-aged children, the 500mb available on Victoriano’s prepaid phone plan each month simply wasn’t sufficient.
It’s so easy to take things for granted
It’s so easy to take certain things for granted when you’ve never lived without them. Food, shelter, clothes, and now the internet. Like smartphones, having access to the internet is no longer a novelty that only those not saving for a house deposit should have, they’re necessities. Having the ability to communicate, learn, and share with the world is now a vital component of existing in a first world society.
The Spark Foundation, in an attempt to offer a leg up to those not even on the internet ladder, last year launched Spark Jump, a programme offering cheap, pre-paid broadband to young families without an internet connection. Partnering with school networks and trusts around New Zealand (the 20/20 Trust is one of the first) Spark Jump aims to provide a necessary connection to enhance children’s learning away from the school.
One of the first in Auckland
Victoriano’s family is one who has be helped by Spark Jump. After seeing an announcement of the launch in the papers, Victoriano called Spark, who then referred him to their Auckland partner and set him up with one of the first Spark Jump modems in the country.
The Takapuna-adjacent suburb of Belmont doesn’t exactly conjure up images of deprivation and low-income families. But after being made redundant from his job last year and being the sole earner working in seasonal employment, Victoriano, with his wife and four school-aged children, quite comfortably (or uncomfortably) qualifies for Spark Jump.
Victoriano’s wife, a qualified teacher, homeschools their four children in the living room of their three bedroom home. Instead of a television, the walls are filled with artwork, much like a standard classroom. Toys and learning materials crowd the space between the living room and the kitchen in a way that is both hard to ignore and yet entirely expected for a family of six living in a small three bedroom home.
It (just) fits in their budget
With most of the home-schooling curriculum shifting online this year, Victoriano was desperate to find a wifi plan they could afford, and Spark Jump’s $15 a month narrowly fit into their budget. But besides being able to avoid the McDonalds carpark, not much has changed for Victoriano. “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.”
However, if they do go through their data quicker than expected, they can top up with another $15 for another 30gb. Or, if there’s no room in the budget for it, there are no penalties. It’s prepay and if you don’t top it up or use it, nothing happens.
Not magic… but it is a start
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.
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.