The Fresno State Connect Initiative is expanding efforts to educate the community on low-cost mobile phone services available in the San Joaquin Valley.

An $800,000 grant from the California Public Utilities Commission for the California LifeLine Boost Mobile Pilot Program will help lower barriers and grow participation in the pilot program. The Fresno State Connect Initiative expects to reach a minimum of 350,000 eligible community members while piloting this program for up to four years.

In order to address these inequities, the Fresno State Connect Initiative conducts outreach to promote awareness of programs that can provide low-cost internet and communication services. The Office of Community and Economic Development staffs the Fresno State Connect Initiative as part of the Advanced Communications Services priority set by the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley.

Households eligible for the pilot program will receive promotional codes that discount a single Boost Mobile phone plan by $15 each month. This program is currently available to households that participate in the California Alternate Rates for Energy Program. The pilot program expands on the existing California LifeLine Program, which is limited to one landline or select cell phone per household.

“What makes this program unique is that it allows participants to bring their own cell phone to the plan,” said project coordinator Luz Ezquivel. “In the past, the program limited the kinds of phones you can use. Now, people won’t be limited in what they can do because they can have a smartphone.”

Since 2011, the initiative has helped bridge the digital divide that impacts the lives of those in rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley. Participation in the pilot program complements efforts of the Connect Initiative to conduct broadband adoption outreach for low-cost internet services in the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley.

In rural areas, access to digital communication and the internet may be limited due to expense or lack of available providers. This digital divide is a constraint on economic development and more efficient and equitable delivery of social services, health care, workforce training, distance learning and digital literacy.

The grant enables the Fresno State Connect Initiative to expand by adding 20 part-time, bilingual agents to its call center, many of which are current Fresno State students. Services will be available in English, Spanish, Punjabi and Hmong. The call center will also use software to be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing clients.

The call center agents will verify callers’ program eligibility, and provide them with a code that can be brought to any Boost Mobile store to sign up for a discounted phone plan.

Californians who may be eligible for the California LifeLine Boost Mobile Pilot are encouraged to call 888.272.8315 (888.2SA.VE15) for more information.

(Story by Ashley Abrahamson, Office of Community and Economic Development)