Tampa is spending millions of federal and local taxpayer dollars installing free Internet service in public housing apartments. But after a year, with $2.8 million in federal stimulus and local money spent, many are calling the program government waste.
The program, called AccessALL Tampa, is unique to Tampa and some are saying the program is not worth the cost. Meanwhile, as working families struggle to make ends meet, wasteful spending by government agencies like the GSA is scrutinized daily on evening news programs.
Wooden kiosks that house computers were installed in over 3,500 of Tampa's public housing apartments through the Tampa stimulus program. The program, managed by the Tampa Housing Authority, is funded by $2.1 million dollars of federal money and $700,000 of matching local funds, according to an ABC Action News report.
Besides free computers and Internet access, the program offers discounted computers and training classes designed to give public housing residents access to the Internet. Every resident contacted by Action News said “they have benefited from the program,” however at least one resident said she can afford access to the Internet and has two accounts, free stimulus-funded access and a private account.
However a Tampa Housing Authority annual report to the federal government details shortfalls in the program, including a “lack of interest” by residents to buy their own computers, even after receiving computer training, Internet access and a free temporary computer.
While residents claim they used their free computers and Internet services to look for work and to get assistance with school work, only 292 people actually completed the computer classes, according to the report. Government workers who designed the program estimated 1,445 people would take advantage of the taxpayer-funded basic computer training.
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) recently called out the Tampa-based stimulus spending as more government waste.
“I think it’s an abject failure. You can’t justify that at all. That equates to $7,200 per person, to teach them how to use a computer. A stimulus dollar shouldn’t be used to update your Facebook, it should be used to do the I-4 Crosstown connector, they should be used to do infrastructure,” Rep. Ross said.
Rosa Hill runs the program for the Tampa Housing Authority and says she and the Tampa Housing Authority consider the stimulus program a success.
“The program is worth it. Prime example, we have a gentleman in our class. He came in to learn computer classes, and he’s excited about it, so by him coming in and having this experience with us in one week, he’s asked for an opportunity to come back in and take reading and writing classes,” Hill said, adding the low turnout problem is being addressed.
But critics believe supplying free computers and Internet access shouldn’t be a taxpayer burden.
“I think we’re taking a terrible path that the government should not be involved in,” Rep. Ross said.
Although they deemed the program successful, Tampa Housing Authority officials say there is no model to base that opinion on since the program is one of a kind. Similar programs designed to improve Internet access provide services in public facilities like community centers and libraries, not individual apartments.