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Jessica Allred, director of advocacy and development at the Missoula Food Bank, talks about how internet access is a crucial need for low income residents of Missoula.

Missoula mayor John Engen believes access to the internet has become as crucial as electric lights and household heating – something that should be considered more like a utility - in terms of giving people a chance at economic success and education.

That’s why Engen lent his support to a new initiative from Charter Communications that will give people who qualify for low-income assistance programs access to low-cost, high-speed broadband service in Montana.

Spectrum Internet Assist will cost $14.99 per month for 30 megabyte-per-second internet, and it will be available to families with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program or seniors over 65 who receive Supplemental Security Income program benefits.

Engen joined officials from Charter at the Missoula Food Bank on Tuesday to introduce the new service.

“More and more we see folks being left behind in our community and in our state and in our nation and in the world,” he said. “And anything we can do to help folks keep up, or in some cases get help up, is a big deal. And the notion that for 15 bucks a month, give or take, someone can have access to the world through the internet is a big deal.”

Engen joked that when he served as the president of the Missoula Food Bank’s board of directors decades ago, the internet was “nothing more than a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye.”

“But now it’s as essential a utility as nearly everything,” he said. “It’s access to business, it’s access to entertainment, it’s access to each other and it’s access to opportunity. So if folks are left out of that access, they are left out of opportunity.”

Current phone and video customers who meet the criteria can enroll, and participation will not be denied due to a bad credit score. A modem is included, but Wi-Fi will cost an additional $5 a month.

Because the regular price for broadband in Missoula is $59.99 per month, it’s a pretty hefty savings.

“We’re hoping it benefits those families that are needing internet for children to do their homework and seniors who can reconnect with loved ones and just the world in general,” said Neal Gilb, director of government and community for Charter.

To assist consumers with the eligibility process and enrollment, Charter has launched a new dedicated Spectrum Internet Assist website: www.SpectrumInternetAssist.com. Prospective enrollees may also call the Spectrum Internet Assist toll-free helpline at 1-844-525-1574 for assistance.

“Charter is excited to bring a whole new world of digital access and opportunity to low income families and seniors, and Spectrum Internet Assist is an important next step in providing true high-speed connections to those who would otherwise continue to face a digital inequality in this country,” said Tom Rutledge, chairman and CEO of Charter Communications. “It’s crucial for cable and broadband providers like us to play a role in bridging the digital divide so that everyone has access to the information and tools they need to succeed in today’s economy.”

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