The McKinley Park neighborhood's Li family, including Grace Li at second from right, celebrate her son's middle school graduation this year, an achievement supported by subsidized access to high-speed Internet through the Chicago Connected program.

Broadband Program, Chinese-American Coalition Bring Better Internet To McKinley Park Families

Published August 24, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the McKinley Park neighborhood’s Li family found themselves challenged with the high cost of broadband Internet. Thankfully, the Coalition for a Better Chinese-American Community (CBCAC) employed the Chicago Public SchoolsChicago Connected program to keep the family online.

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“It was extremely important for us to have broadband access at home, so that our children don’t drop out of school,” said Grace Li, who has lived with her family in McKinley Park for more than seven years.

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“I used to work at a local museum before the pandemic struck,” Li said. “Once the museum closed, I was out of a job, along with my husband, who is an Uber driver.”

To avoid contagion during the pandemic, Li moved her parents into her home from their senior center, joining Li, her husband and her two children.

“My house has too many people now, so the Internet speed is sometimes slow,” she said. “We have one laptop, one computer and five phones.”

CBCAC and Chicago Connected

When Li realized she could no longer afford Internet access — a necessity for both standard homework and remote school during the pandemic — the CBCAC stepped in to help with the application process as a partner organization of Chicago Connected.

“We primarily work with parents who speak Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese,” said Grace Chan McKibben, the CBCAC’s executive director. “We also hold digital literacy workshops to help the parents learn basic skills like email, Google search and fraud prevention.”

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Families often also need help with other school topics, McKibben said, including financial support, food assistance and after-school and summer programs.

Broadband Survey

“Most of the folks who really need help find us via WeChat,” said CBCAC Outreach Coordinator Vivian Zhang.

Li’s family is similar to many in McKinley Park, according to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) data, which shows households with more than four people occupying the majority of McKinley Park residences between 2015 and 2019.

CMAP’s data also shows that 83.6 percent of households have broadband access in McKinley Park. However, this statistic does not tell the whole story, said Anthony Wojtal, who is helming a survey on neighborhood broadband access for the McKinley Park Development Council.

A Better Life

“Broadband access is an issue in several parts of McKinley Park,” Wojtal said, “primarily because of a lack of options.” Costs can be as high as $100 a month for a connection offering no higher than 50 megabits per second download speeds, he said.

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“Providers don’t want to spend so much on building expensive infrastructure in McKinley Park,” Wojtal said. “An initiative like Chicago Connected only came up because of the pandemic.”

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“Now I have free WiFi offered by Comcast,” Li said. “If the CBCAC didn’t help me, then we would have had a very hard time ensuring a better life for our children.”

Photo provided courtesy of the Li family and the CBCAC.

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