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Program strives to improve internet affordability in the region

Josh Averbeck, Director of the Social Media Lab at WIU, during the event at the Small Towner.
Rich Egger
Josh Averbeck, Director of the Social Media Lab at WIU, during the event at The Small Towner.

The Social Media Lab at Western Illinois University is trying to get the word out about the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The federal program provides up to $30 per month toward high-speed internet service for qualifying households. A list of what makes households eligible can be found on the Affordable Connectivity Program website.

Josh Averbeck, a professor in the Department of Communication and director of the Social Media Lab, said they face a couple challenges in promoting the program.

One is getting the word out about it.

The other is a general mistrust of federal programs.

Averbeck: “People don’t want to apply to a program and tell the federal government more information about themselves than they would like to. So, getting them to sign up and provide that information is a huge hurdle.”

TSPR: “Does the government use that information in some sort of way?”

Averbeck: “They don’t. In fact, they check what information you provide against what they already know about you to ensure that you are the person that you say you are.”

The project is focused on nine counties in west central Illinois: Adams, Brown, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Pike, Schuyler, and Warren.

The lab shared information about the program recently during a four hour promotion at The Small Towner, an event venue on the west side of the Macomb courthouse square.

Averbeck said the region needs upgrades to its internet access.

“In particular, there is work being done getting access to farmers in the field because some of their equipment requires high speed internet access, and also knowing what the current prices are to know when it’s time to harvest or to give it a little bit of time,” he said.

“Having high speed internet access in the field would help farmers immensely.”

WIU’s Social Media Lab

Averbeck said the Social Media Lab is a one-stop shop for those who are interested in learning how to create and manage social media accounts.

He said it’s available to individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

“We will help you do anything from creating an account to deciding what to post to helping you create a website and everything in-between,” he said.

Currently, the lab helps promote the WIU food pantry to students. It also works with a number of local businesses and individuals, including a novelist who needed help promoting their books.

Averback said the lab also plans to host a conference at WIU’s Malpass Library sometime in the future to focus on helping the region’s libraries reach their rural communities and give them access to more devices.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.