As Republicans introduce new Jim Crow style voting restrictions, it's vital to empower more eligible citizens to vote. Free internet access enables more people to learn how, where and when they can vote.
Millions of Americans are disenfranchised because they do not have the internet access to find out about voting requirements which are increasingly provided online and subject to sudden changes. This lack of internet access hurts poor, rural communities of color the most. It also makes it harder for voting right advocacy groups to reach potential voters. Online advertising isn't viable with people who are offline and TV advertising is expensive. This leaves Republican-aligned Sinclair News as the only source of information for many rural communities.
A new initiative provides free internet access in remote, underserved areas through sponsored WiFi hotspots. Connectivity enables residents to learn about COVID vaccinations, benefit programs, online education, about job opportunities, housing and more.
The politics of denying voters internet access
This map shows the districts which have the least internet access. Consider states like Arizona and Georgia where Republicans are pushing for more Jim Crow style voting restrictions, and South Dakota where Republicans made last minute changes to the voting rules to make it harder for Native Americans to vote. See the correlation between denying voters access to the internet in order to make it harder for them to vote?
This map can be freely shared with this link https://arcg.is/1HrC9S2
Free internet initiative
The free internet access is provided through WiFi hotspots where routers offer connectivity to up to forty simultaneous users. How it works:
- Local community organizer choose the location where they would like to provide connectivity. This could be a church, community center, homeless shelter ...
- Or they can choose a mobile version of the router that works from a car battery or other portable power source
- A WiFi router is shipped to them which can be installed anywhere in the T-Mobile coverage area
- Users provide their contact information and accept the usage terms to get free WiFi connectivity
- Hotspot users see messages and surveys from the sponsors while they are online
- Messages served can be precisely targeted to the individual. A retiree in Georgia will see a different message than a young mother in Arizona.
- The community organizers managing the hotspots can build contact lists from the information provided by WiFi users and use that to call or text them afterwards even when they are not using the WiFi hotspot
The WiFi hotspots are remotely managed and serve messages from sponsors to users. This targeted messaging capability helps fund the hotspot and provide free internet access.
- The monthly cost to operate a hotspot to serve 40 users is $120 or $3/month/user
- Sponsors can customize their messages to the user's profile and target their messages to specific hotspots
- Hotspot users see the messages and surveys sent to them. This provides sponsors a more cost-effective means of outreach than simple online advertising.
- Sponsors can run different campaigns at different times depending on their mission such as 'Get vaccinated', 'Register to vote' ...
The poor are forced to use expensive, prepaid phone plans which give them little bandwidth. This forces them to selectively use their bandwidth and search for free WiFi connectivity at fast food restaurants and other public places.
Better list building
Many voters aren't to be found on the voter file including those who haven't registered, others who have been purged, the homeless, the elderly and disabled. Many find it difficult to request forms, get postage and mail back completed forms if they live in a remote area. The mobile version of the hotspot router is the ultimate list building tool. Organizers drive to locations where people are likely to congregate, provide free WiFi access and collect build lists of contact details of the users with their permission.
Number of locations mobile hotspot driven to per day = 3 (approx. 2 hours per location)
Contact details collected per location = 10
Contacts collected per month per organizer = 10 contacts x 3 locations/day x 30 days = 900
Cost to add new contact to the list = 900 contacts / $120 per month = 7.5 cents
Cost benefit analysis
Let's compare the impact of an online advertising campaign versus targeted messages through a sponsored internet hotspot.
Budget : $10,000
Online advertising : $10 CPM (cost to serve 1,000 ads)
Response rate : 1% (industry standard)
Voters seeing ad : $10/CPM x $10,000 x 1% = 10,000
Mobile ads only reach people who are online and do not build a contact list. It also does little to help the individual being targeted.
The same $10,000 could provision mobile 6 WiFi hotspots for a year and serve over 300 people at time and used to build contact lists.
900 people/month x 12 months x 6 mobile WiFi routers = 64,800
This list of phone numbers could be used to contact the users even when they were not on the WiFi hotspot.
The free internet approach allows organizers to reach hard-to-contact communities, deliver messages and build contact lists at the same time as uplifting these underserved communities.
Takeaway: Fight back against voter suppression by providing free internet access to hard-to-reach-communities so they too can can exercise their right to vote. Leave no eligible voter behind!
Learn more about this free internet initiative.
Image credit: Political Cartoons