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President to discuss new internet access program in Durant

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said Wednesday that the residents in the program will pay a fee for the services but that it would be "very subsidized."

The Choctaw Nation will receive a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for broadband equipment and training, he said.

Nationwide, the program is expected to cost about $70 million in federal money over the next several years, Castro told reporters.

Expanding broadband internet service in rural areas was a focus of Obama's stimulus program in the first months of his presidency, and that was followed by other efforts, including the ConnectED project to ensure public schools had high-speed access.

The pilot program announced Wednesday aims to keep students connected once they get home, according to the White House.

"Since the President took office, the private and public sectors have invested over $260 billion into new broadband infrastructure, and three in four Americans now use broadband at home," the White House said in a statement about the launch.

Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association, said local libraries will provide tools and training in the program so residents "can maximize broadband access to advance job skills, complete homework assignments, pursue online learning and certifications and protect their privacy and security of personal information as they expand their online lives.

"While 92 percent of households with incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 have broadband service, the adoption rate is only 47 percent for households with income below $25,000."

Susan McVey, directof of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, said, "In many rural Oklahoma communities like Durant, the library is the only place with high-speed Internet. Broadband access is a vital issue for urban, rural and tribal residents alike."

Oklahoma City is not one of the cities in the pilot program.

However, Cox Communications in Oklahoma City announced Wednesday that it has partnered with a separate non-profit initiative called Connect2Compete to offer discounted Internet service to low-income families with children who qualify for the free school lunch program.

Cox will charge $9.95 per month for high-speed service for two years. That includes free installation and modem rental fees.

“Cox has a legacy of reaching into the communities that we serve and partnering to address important issues. By giving students access to technology we are removing barriers that will open up the world to them,” said Christine Martin, Director of Communications for Cox Communications.

The Choctaw Nation was chosen last year as one of the administration's first Promise Zones, partnerships to bring an array of services to chronically poor areas.

After visiting Durant, the president is scheduled to spend the night in Oklahoma City and tour the federal prison in El Reno on Thursday as part of his focus on criminal justice reform.

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›