Company doubles number of eligible low-income households to receive affordable Internet at home
By Matt Nagle
Ensuring that no barriers exist to prevent access to the worldwide web continues to be a top priority at Comcast. After having announced the statewide expansion of its Internet Essentials program this past August, Comcast’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen revealed this week that the company has now doubled the number of eligible low-income households, including seniors and those with disabilities.
Traveling on a multi-city tour to make this announcement, Cohen held a telephone press conference with local reporters on Oct. 4. “The Internet is the most important technological innovation in the history of our country,” he said. “We have a commitment as a company to close the digital divide.”
Cohen said not embracing all people across that “digital divide” would leave another generation behind in terms of job skills and opportunities. “I am savvy enough to say that is not what our country stands for where one-quarter or one-third has no access to the Internet. My aspiration is that we won’t leave them behind so that they can compete for 21stcentury jobs that are family sustaining.”
The best outcome is that over time, the young people and families that qualify for Internet Essentials today will not qualify in the next generation because they’ll be making middle class living wages and can afford high speed Internet on their own.
“By increasing digital equity, we will have a more qualified workforce,” as Cohen put it. “Whether the Internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits or medical assistance, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern digital age.”
Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive and most successful low-income broadband adoption initiative. Since the inception of Internet Essentials in 2011, Comcast has increased eligibility 11 times, this year making the largest and most sweeping change for all low-income residents who reside in the Comcast footprint. More than 8 million low-income Americans have been connected to the Internet at home through the program, which includes nearly 340,000 people and 85,000 households in Washington state.
While there are numerous digital literacy related issues keeping low-income Americans from using the Internet, the number one barrier is price and lack of accessibility to affordable equipment. Through Internet Essentials, the cost for qualifying low-income individuals and families to get connected with high-speed Internet service is just $9.99 a month. The program also provides opportunity for families to purchase heavily discounted computers complete with a comprehensive suite of digital literacy training materials.
Before holding his Oct. 4 press conference, Cohen led two community events in Spokane and the first was with Clark Brekke, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest. On this auspicious occasion, Comcast and Goodwill unveiled a new state-of-the-art interactive digital classroom to expand and enhance Goodwill’s job training programs, as the vast majority of Goodwill’s program participants have some level of disability, are low-income and/or served in the military. This special computer lab will facilitate digital literacy training, helping to bridge a major barrier to broadband adoption – a lack of digital skills. Comcast also presented a grant to Goodwill and surprised program participants with 50 laptops and six months of complimentary Internet Essential service.
U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist and Purple Heart recipient Rico Roman was there as well. He said he is both humbled and honored to be part of Comcast’s efforts.
“Being a veteran myself, I know how Internet Essentials can help with numerous things, from applying for jobs to accessing resources for benefits and staying in contact with guys who are still serving or who have gotten out. That’s a huge part of returning to civilian life – staying connected.”
“I have been an observer of the impact that Rico has on kids, seniors, veterans…,” Cohen said. “He is an inspiration and has been an important part of attracting people to this program.”
At the second Spokane event, Comcast honored Spokane’s Mayor, David Condon, as an Internet Essentials Community Champion for his role in helping to promote affordable Internet access for the city’s low-income community. Condon is wrapping up his second and final term as the city’s leader, and as one last surprise, Comcast announced a donation of 50 laptop computers and complimentary Internet Essentials service for Family Promise of Spokane in the Mayor’s name, which works to equip families and communities to end the cycle of homelessness.
Here in the Tacoma area, Internet Essentials has been a godsend for the Bethel School District, where some schools have 70 percent of the student population on the free and reduced lunch program. In 2011, Comcast approached the district about joining up with Internet Essentials and it has been a hit ever since.
“As a school district, we feel responsible to help care for the whole community and not just the district,” said Bethel’s Director of Community Connections, Jay Brower. “Internet Essentials has helped us close the ‘haves and have nots’ gap and is a great resource to students and parents in our school district. Many families in Bethel have been able to take advantage of this great program and its benefits, as well as other resources we provide to the community.”
Brower said that amenities like transportation and even walkable sidewalks are lacking in the Bethel community. This, coupled with access barriers to affordable Internet, creates hurdles when students need to get to the library, versus accessingIInternet at home to complete homework assignments and school projects that require online resources. It’s even tougher on students with working parents or guardians who do not have access to transportation to drive their children to where they need to go. Internet Essentials provides a solution that makes daily tasks such as completing homework, receiving emails and updates from teachers easy for students and parents. Brower emphasized the importance of technology and Internet connectivity for families with school-aged children.
“By having this connectivity, it levels the playing field and ensures a successful future in a world where technological competence is essential,” Brower said.
This is in addition to Comcast’s generous donations of computers to raffle for students and sponsorship funds for events like All Bethel Community Day and technology and art fairs at Bethel schools.
According to Brower, “Comcast has been a great partner over the years.”
For more information on Internet Essentials, or to apply for the program (in seven different languages), visit www.InternetEssentials.com or call 1 (855) 846-8376. Spanish-only speakers can also call 1 (855) 765-6995.