North Carolina has average adoption rates at home for broadband at its slowest speeds, but as speeds increase, adoption rates drop significantly, Bailey said.
"Solving the broadband adoption challenge is critical to ensuring that we have digitally literate and digitally active students," she said.
MI-Connection CEO David Auger said REACH is "completely self-funded," with installation costs offset by the initial $20 fee. Some customers may bundle services with the company for the first time, he said.
"Everything falls in line for us to do this," Auger said in an interview as MI-Connection workers signed up the first REACH families at Broad Street United Methodist Church on Oct. 21.
As a municipally owned cable system, MI-Connection operates from a different business model than private cable companies, Bailey said.
"It would be unlikely for a private sector company to offer free service, although there are pilots for discount programs with private-sector companies," she said.
In October 2012, 35 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools were among 1,000 nationwide selected to participate in the national nonprofit Connect2Compete.
As part of the initiative, Time Warner Cable launched a pilot program offering Internet access to lower-income families with school-age children for $9.95 a month.
Time Warner Cable charges no activation or installation fee in the program, called Starter Internet. It won't increase the price or charge equipment rental fees for the first two years.
Between October 2012 and January, nearly 200 CMS families registered for the service.
Elsewhere in the country, cable provider Comcast Corp. launched a pilot program in Chicago in September to beef up broadband Internet access and digital literacy resources in areas around five Chicago public schools in low-income neighborhoods.
Comcast partnered with United Way to set up the five local "learning zones" that feature technology training programs and events, enhanced Internet access in the schools and public Wi-Fi service at neighboring community organizations, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Locally, other efforts have sprung up to provide Internet access to students from lower-income households.
In March, the national nonprofit One Laptop per Child organization and Project LIFT delivered 2,000 laptops to seven schools in the West Charlotte corridor. The goal is for laptops to assist in getting students at Project LIFT schools 90 percent on grade level and 90 percent achieving more than one year's academic growth in a year's time.
Even Franny Millen, an eighth grader at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius, is working to get broadband into more homes to bridge the "digital divide" between higher and lower-income students. Her E2D initiative has identified 472 families at five North Mecklenburg schools in whose homes she hopes to get laptops and greater bandwidth. Mooresville-based Lowe's donated 500 computers to the cause.
In the Campbell household, connected by MI-Connection on Friday, Kyilahv, 13, and Kariv, 9, "are ecstatic," mom Torie said.
"Now they can do their homework at home," she said.
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