There is no doubt that having access to and understanding how to use the Internet is fundamental to success in today’s world. The Internet is an essential tool that helps kids connect to homework and educational resources, assists adults with their healthcare and in their search for better jobs, and allows everyone to be more connected to what’s going on in the world.
With the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic, households across the country, regardless of geography or income levels, needed to quickly pivot to a world that was moving almost exclusively online. This shift further exposed the challenges many Americans, especially low-income households, faced accessing broadband.
For example, there are too many individuals that rely solely on smart phones for Internet access. That means no computers or laptops. No home Wi-Fi. It’s the kids from these families who you might see lingering in public places such as libraries or restaurants to access Wi-Fi to do their homework on smartphones never designed for that purpose. At Comcast, we want to help change that.
We are on a mission to ensure students have what they need to be successful. Since 2011, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program — the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program — has connected 8 million people from low-income families to the internet at home. The COVID-19 crisis has put many of these students at risk and has accelerated the need for digital equity and Internet adoption programs to support them. That’s why Comcast has developed a comprehensive program to address the major barriers (cost, accessibility, digital literacy and training) to broadband adoption, which is about far more than just bringing Internet service into the home.
For the sixth time in 10 years, the company is increasing the speed of Internet Essentials service to 50 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream (takes effect March 9th), again without changing the price of $9.95/month, the same it has been since 2011. With these speeds, families will have even more bandwidth for distance learning and remote work, as well as accessing healthcare information, enjoying online entertainment, and staying in touch with family and friends during the pandemic and beyond.
As part of the Internet Essentials program, the company also offers families the opportunity to purchase a laptop for less than $150, and works closely with non-profit organizations and school districts that wish to sponsor families who simply can’t afford the monthly service rate on their own.
This month, Comcast also announced the acceleration of its multi-year Lift Zones program with community centers across the country, including here in the Twin Cities. Many of the centers lacked the infrastructure or broadband speeds to support their members.
Comcast’s Lift Zones initiative, geared to help address the homework gap, provides community centers with free, robust high-speed WiFi for up to three years, and provides students with a safe space to learn. While a few hundred centers across the country have already been successfully launched, Comcast has made its mission to connect more than 1,000 locations by the end of the year.
Local community partners to date include the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, the Phyllis Wheatley Center in Minneapolis, The Sanneh Foundation at Conway Community Center in St. Paul, and Perspectives Family Center in St. Louis Park. At least 31 Lift Zone sites are now active in the region.
Crossing that digital divide can be a life-changing transformation. It opens opportunities for education, employment, health care, government services, and a wealth of information and entertainment. And, continued collaboration between nonprofit and community-based organizations, educational institutions as well as the government and private sectors is the key to fully addressing the digital divide.