I grew up on Chickasaw Nation land and always knew I wanted to go back and raise my kids. It’s a small community of 3,000 people where everyone knows each other. Neighbors watch each other’s children and look after people in need. My children will receive their education in the same local school system where I graduated. Most importantly, I raise them surrounded by our culture and history.
But our city is in one of the poorest areas of Oklahoma, with an overall poverty rate hovering around 30%. In a state where the minimum wage is a measly $7.25 an hour, it’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the cost of living, let alone support a family on wages. so low. Even as a full-time nurse, I struggle to make ends meet for my family of six.
Rural and Indigenous communities like ours have been particularly hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic. Families already struggling to pay bills and keep food on the table have been forced to make tough decisions. My family was willing to give up internet access so they could buy food and gas. Luckily, thanks to the Affordable Connectivity Program, I didn’t have to make that decision. Once I applied, my monthly bill went from $100 to $24.
The program is part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, which Congress passed last November. The Affordable Connectivity Program ensures that working-class people have access to affordable high-speed Internet service. People living on tribal land can get a discount of up to $75 for a 100 Mbps plan. For some plans, this would cover the entire cost of the internet bill.
But it’s not just for low-income households or people living on tribal land. In fact, 40% of households across the country are eligible for discounted high-speed Internet access, or approximately 48 million households.
The pandemic has made internet access as essential as water or electricity. My kids’ school switched to online education during the early months of quarantine, and even now they’re still doing all their homework on laptops at school and at home. I work from home two days a week and need a strong internet connection to work while my kids and husband are also online. Without reliable high-speed internet, I couldn’t work, my kids couldn’t finish any of their schoolwork, and staying in touch with friends and extended family — which is more important than ever — would be impossible.
But, like many tribal lands across the country, the Chickasaw Nation is very rural and lacks the broadband infrastructure that makes internet affordable and more accessible in more urban areas. The price of high-speed Internet in our rural area was about $100 per month. A steep expense, but absolutely necessary.
So I felt a wave of relief when I received my first Internet bill since qualifying for the Affordable Connectivity Program. These savings have freed up money in our budget to deal with the economic uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.
Now I tell everyone that I know the program. There are many people living below the poverty line in the Chickasaw Nation who will benefit from these savings. Depression is a serious problem in the Chickasaw Nation, and affordable internet service is critical to ensuring that people facing mental health crises can access telehealth services, connect to resources, and reach out to others to ease the pain. feelings of loneliness.
For too long, society has treated internet access as a luxury, leaving millions of people – especially rural and indigenous communities – behind as life moves increasingly online. As we emerge from the pandemic, our country depends on internet connectivity more than ever, but access remains an issue for many. Indigenous communities deserve access to affordable, quality internet. While Americans everywhere are feeling the pinch, I’m glad this administration is taking action to cut costs.
Kandie Guynn lives with her husband and four children in Tishomingo.