PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Staying connected during the pandemic means internet access is more crucial than ever right now. From online school to working from home and telehealth, the internet is a lifeline.

But many people have lost their jobs. Money is tight. What happens if you can’t afford the internet or there’s no access at your home?

Kirk Kelly, the Chief Information Officer for Portland State University, told KOIN 6 News that “40-45% of Americans struggle with internet connectivity, and often a high percentage of those are from low income households. So I think they’re really struggling right now.”

But there are different options for people that can work for multiple situations.

“I know schools have done things as simple as driving around with a bus with some internet connectivity or making sure their parking lots have good WiFi so you could drive up and get connections,” Kelly said.

“I know all the major cellular vendors — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — have all offered free hot spots. So if you have a smart phone, and even lower income households will often have a smart phone, you can contact your carrier and they’ll turn on a hot spot for you that offer a lot higher speeds. So that’s an option for people.”

Amy Keiter with Comcast said they understand their role in keeping people connected, especially now, is very important.

“We have a program called ‘Internet Essentials’ which is designed to help low income individuals and families with access to the internet,” she said. They’re offering the program free for 60 days if customers sign up before April 30. After the initial 60 days, customers can keep the service if they want for $9.95 per month.

“With ‘Internet Essentials’ customers receive a modem that gives them the ability to connect to the internet,” Keiter said. “You also have the option to purchase a subsidized laptop or PC for $149.”

She added that low income people in Oregon and Southwest Washington who is receiving state or federal assistance likely qualifies for Internet Essentials.

PSU’s Kelly suggests people contact their local providers or do a quick internet search for service. “You’re going to find a lot of things that are free or very low cost these days.”

KOIN Podcast: Internet connectivity big concern for PPS as they work to meet distance learning deadline. Listen below or download it from Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or Podbean.

Hot spots

A “hot spot” converts a cellular signal to a WiFi signal, allowing someone to connect to it like any other WiFi device.

FILE – A woman holds a cellphone in front of a laptop computer.

“If you’ve got a cellular signal at your home — and that’s going to be 95% plus of the country that have cellular signals, if not higher than that — and it has any reasonable speed, then if you have a hot spot you can now connect to the internet,” Kelly said.

Almost every smart phone will also act as a hot spot if the setting is turned on. Kelly said about “98% of Americans have high speed cellular signal to their home. And if you’ve got that and you have a smart phone, you can turn on a hot spot on your smart phone and share out WiFi from your phone.”

Kelly also said he was a good example of someone who lives in a spot where connectivitty is limited. He said he augmented with a hot spot from Verizon.

“Just call your cellular carrier and talk to them about what they can offer you,” he said, “because they’re all offering free services right now for 2 months, at least.