29 January, 2021

Cause of death: Could not afford internet access.

icon internet access,WiFi Hotspots
Lack of access to the internet can be fatal in a pandemic. That is why black, brown and indigenous communities have the most deaths.

Lack of internet access can be fatal. That's partially why people of color are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than White Americans.

Health groups post COVID safety measures online. Details on COVID-19 testing facilities are online. Vaccination appointments are made online. So, not being online can quickly become a death sentence.

How can residents in poor communities get free internet access to learn about COVID care? How could such internet access help them in other ways? How can WiFi hotspots be deployed quickly in both poor urban and remote rural areas? How can advocacy groups advertise to these WiFi users knowing their messages will be seen and surveys completed? How can such an internet service pay for itself?

The idea for a free internet service was inspired by TV soap operas. Soap companies produce these programs to advertise to consumers, and also support TV stations at the same time. The soap realized that it was more cost-effective to create their own programs embedded with ads, rather than buy ads on other TV programs. Similarly, advocacy groups and campaigns who spend millions on advertising can sponsor WiFi hotspots that people benefit from and also use that as a platform to communicate with people while they are online.

This free internet service offers WiFi hotspots in poor, remote communities and is supported by ads from sponsors. Local residents get free internet access in return for periodically watching messages and completing surveys. Sponsors get a 100% response rate as WiFi users have to see the message or complete a survey in order to stay online.

This blog describes a sponsored WiFi hotspot pilot program being set up in a predominantly low-income, black community in Kalamazoo, Michigan by Mothers of Hope and DemLabs. The service provides free internet access for 25 people and costs sponsors about $100/month. You'll also learn how you can help sponsor setting up such WiFi hotspots in other locations and deliver targeted ads through them.

Ad sponsored internet service provides free WiFi hotspots.

Connectivity where it is needed the most

Stephanie Moore is the Co-founder of Mothers of Hope, a non-profit group in Kalamazoo. It empowers and strengthens women, families, and communities to rise above the effects of substance use disorders, poverty, violence and systemic inequities. She explains how lack of internet hurts her community where broadband internet access isn't available and most residents cannot afford their own WiFi hotspot. Residents use phones with small data plans. so they rely on public WiFi hotspots to make phone calls and look up information. This forces them to walk several blocks to get WiFi access at a public facility or fast food restaurant which is especially difficult for students, seniors and the disabled. The consequences are devastating:

Lack of internet access hurts a community in many ways.

The Coronavirus is not color blind

Black, brown and indigenous Americans are more than twice as likely from COVID-19.
Source: APM Research Lab

Fauci pushes for vaccine rollouts to prioritize people of color - Mic
"Stark racial disparities are becoming clear. Dr. Anthony Fauci pushed for vaccine rollouts to prioritize people of color, citing the pandemic's disproportionate impact on their communities. Sixteen states have released vaccinate data by race, Axios reported, and in every one of them, white people people have been vaccinated at rates that are often two or three times higher than those of Black people.

"You really want to get it to the people who are really the most vulnerable," Fauci said. "You want to get it to everybody, but you don't want to have a situation where people who really are in need of it, because of where they are, where they live, what their economic status is, that they don't have access to the vaccine."

"Our people don't know where they can get tested for COVID-19, or where the vaccination centers are", said Stephanie Moore with Mothers of Hope. "Without internet access it is next to impossible for them to make an appointment to get vaccinated".

Free internet access

Sponsored WiFi hotspots are nothing new. Businesses offer free WiFi to attract customers, collect details and advertise to them. The Sponsored WiFi Program applies these proven technologies to help underserved communities and offer advocacy groups a most cost-effective way to reach these communities.

Hotels, cafes, airports ask you to register before using their WiFi hotspots. This lets them track how long you are online, collect details on you and send you messages. The same approach is used in the Sponsored WiFi Hotspots.
- Users first register and provide their age, gender, race and address.
- Once registered, they can use the internet as usual.
- WiFi users are periodically shown ads matching their personal profile
- Sponsors can serve ads that include graphics, videos or survey questionnaires.
- Users have to acknowledge seeing an ad or completing a survey before resuming their internet usage.
- This approach lets sponsors precisely target their ads with the assurance that they will be seen and surveys completed.

Setting up a WiFi hotspot is simple. A router about the size of a small pizza pox is mailed to the location where it is plugged into a power outlet. The router connects to the cellular network in the Verizon coverage area. The hotspots are managed and ads served from a remote location.

Businesses provide free WiFi in order to attract customers, collect information on them and serve them ads.

Online advertising

Millions are spent by advocacy groups and campaigns to reach constituents. Online ad platforms like Facebook and Google profit immensely from controlling a limited supply of ad inventory. People are bombarded with ads which drive response rates lower which reduces the return on investment from such ad campaigns. Ads are priced as:

"Cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) Pricing – Pay for ad views (bidding for one thousand views); best-suited to brand awareness campaigns where you want your ad to be seen as often as possible by your target audience.
Cost-per-click (CPC) Pricing – Pay only when someone clicks on your ad; best-suited to online ad campaigns where your goal is to drive traffic to your website.
Cost-per-acquisition (CPA) Pricing – Set a target CPA and pay when your ad leads to a conversion; use this option if your end goal is sales or other online transactions." - The Comprehensive Guide to Online Advertising Costs

Cost of online advertising on Google and Facebook

Sponsored WiFi hotspots outperform regular digital ads

Sponsored WiFi hotspots outperform traditional digital ad campaigns in several ways:
- Cost: Advertising through sponsored WiFi costs a small fraction of traditional digital ads because users are required to respond in order to stay online. The cost to get a survey completed (CPA) is about $0.50.
- Extended reach: Such WiFi hotspots bring onboard potential voters and others who were formerly unreachable because they were offline.
- Precise targeting: Ads can be targeted to the profile of the individual user on the WiFi hotspot
- Pull vs Push: A free WiFi hotspot enriches a community where it is based and attracts residents, unlike a traditional campaign which seeks to get someone's attention.
- Long term impact: We WiFi hotspot has a long term impact in a community, unlike an ad campaign which is over once the ad budget is exhausted.

Existing ad platforms let advertisers reach millions of people which WiFi hotspots cannot. But, these WiFi spots benefit from Network Effects and their value increases as more hotspots are deployed and sponsors get to reach more people.

Takeaway: Free internet access in under-served communities improves many lives.
Sponsors save money, get better response rates and earn goodwill from the communities they provide free internet access.
See how you can sponsor a WiFi hotspot in a disadvantaged or remote rural community for just $100/month.


Image credit: Ryan Stone on Unsplash

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