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Poor R.I. families to get cheap Web access

PROVIDENCE — Low-income families in Rhode Island are eligible for reduced-price computers and Internet access through a new program that aims to eliminate digital disadvantages of growing up poor.

The initiative, announced Wednesday, is a joint effort by Cox Communications and Connect2Compete, a national nonprofit that works to bridge what it calls the digital divide. Under the program, families with at least one child receiving free school lunches can get an Internet connection at a cost of $9.95 per month and can buy refurbished computers for $150 and laptops for $199.

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About 29 percent of households in Rhode Island lack access to the Internet. Connect2Compete’s chief operating officer, Brian Vahaly, said children without Internet access are at a distinct disadvantage compared with peers who can use the Internet to complete homework assignments.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence, Mayor James Diossa of Central Falls, and other elected officials joined school officials and representatives from Cox and Connect2Compete to highlight the initiative at Central Falls High School. Chafee said Internet access not only helps students achieve academic success but also prepares them for their future careers.

“No child should be denied access to the Internet because of income,” Chafee said.

An increasing percentage of jobs require computer skills, and about 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies require online applications for open positions, Connect2Compete said.

The program was announced as schools around Rhode Island prepare to welcome students for the 2013-14 school year.

Cox, which provides cable television, Internet, and phone services, began the program last year in San Diego and has expanded it. Cox plans to work with school administrators and afterschool programs to inform students and their parents about the program.

Diossa noted that almost all of the 2,700 students in Central Falls are eligible for the program. He said the program is “the fuel that can feed the future of our young people.”

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