SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — San Jose looks to build on its efforts to address the city’s digital divide through a first-of-its-kind program that aims to minimize financial barriers to connect low-income residents with internet access. 

On Thursday, the city of San Jose announced a pilot program in partnership with Helium and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) that will involve mining Helium ($HNT) tokens to help pay for broadband internet access for low-income residents. 

“The partnership here is a first-of-its-kind where a city has partnered with Helium in order to leverage an emerging technology such as cryptocurrency while simultaneously deploying an IoT network for our smart cities initiatives,” said Jordan Sun, chief innovation officer for Mayor Sam Liccardo’s office. 

Helium hotspot device.

How it works

The Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI) will install 20 Helium-compatible hotspots to volunteer residents and small businesses across San Jose for six months and once the device is installed, it begins to mine Helium cryptocurrency tokens (HNT); using as little as the energy of an LED light bulb to operate. 

The mined HNT tokens will then be converted into prepaid, cash cards and given to low-income households to subsidize their internet expenses — in return, all of the HNT mined from the hotspots will be used toward subsidy payouts to San Jose residents. 

The pilot program will pay for low-cost internet plans for 1,300 low-income households for one year by providing participants with a one-time of $120. 

“We thought about it, we said, well, why don’t we figure out a way to deploy these miners, but rather than allow individuals to benefit, we try to say, look, let’s allow our most marginalized community members who need internet access to be able to benefit from these earnings,” said Sun.

“How we’ve taken that business model there is that rather than make this accessible just to a few people who are in the know,” Sun added. 

“Most people are not paying attention to this space, especially our everyday residents.”

The city says in addition to helping low-income residents gain internet access, the IoT infrastructure powered by the Helium devices will improve the delivery of citywide services like air quality monitoring, fire detection, water leakage, and climate-related opportunities. 

San Jose residents who need assistance getting internet access at home, click or tap here. 

For residents who are interested in signing up to host a Helium hotspot, click or tap here.