A photo showing two little girls sitting outside of a Taco Bell to access the free wifi has gone viral. Reportedly, the girls were connecting to the wifi in order to do their schoolwork because they don't have regular access to the internet.
The photo prompted a discussion about uneven access to the internet in the United States and how that affects lower-income and minority households disproportionately. Not having access to the internet regularly severely limits a person's ability to engage in the world, find work, and stay informed.
The photo was taken in Northern California. The two girls are apparently students in the Salinas City Elementary School District, according to KION. The "digital divide," as Kevin de León wrote, is real and it perpetuates cycles of poverty and a lack of opportunities.
Many believe that internet should be a free and public service. It can be hard to conceive of the fact that there are Americans who live without access to the internet on a daily basis. For many, it's always in our pocket thanks to our smartphones. But there are many Americans who can't afford internet access and have relied on places like cafés and libraries, which have been closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One Twitter user reports that at their local library, people drive up in cars and sit in the parking lot just so they can use the WiFi. It is an essential service, and yet, access to it is uneven, and it leaves so many, children and adults, behind.
"There has been a lot of embarrassing events coming out of this country in the last few years but this an absolute disgrace," one Twitter user writes. "You'd think all our trillions of dollars going into billionaire pockets could be better spent on upgrading our utilities so everyone has fast free internet."
In a statement, the school district said that it is aware that some students are having trouble finding internet access. They said they provided an internet hotspot to the family and has placed more orders for hotspots.
President of the Board Amy Ish said, "The digital divide is very real and delays in receiving needed technology are a statewide concern. We are grateful the State is making technology a priority and look forward to receiving these hotspots in our district."
Instagram user @flowerinspanish posted an update about the girls and the rest of their family. According to @flowerinspanish, their mom is an essential worker who has been raising three daughters. Although she initially resisted assistance, she eventually accepted help, and they were able to get a week's stay in a hotel so they could be safe and have access to everything they need.
In the meantime, a GoFundMe has been started to help this family. The GoFundMe states that this family is facing eviction in September and hadn't yet been able to find a new place to move into.
"Thanks to help from donations and Flor (@flowerinspanish) we were able to get her a week in a hotel room for her and her girls while we help her search for a more permanent place to live," says the GoFundMe page. "For now they are safe but they need as much help as they can get. Thank you for helping change their lives.
"All children deserve a happy place to live and because of their dedication, these little girls deserve a safe space to learn." As of August 31, the GoFundMe has raised $43,985 to help this family.