Comcast Closing Digital Divide By Opening More Doors Of Eligibility

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A Chicago mother whose children had to use her cell phone at McDonalds to access the Internet; a Miami mother who had to use the Internet at a library to complete her homework. These were among the real-life stories David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast NBCUniversal highlighted in announcing the company’s largest ever expansion of its Internet Essentials Program.

“I have met hundreds of families, mothers, and children whose stories broke my heart, but also gave hope,” said Cohen in announcing Internet Essentials is expanding its eligibility to include all qualified low-income households in its service area.

“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said Cohen. “The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource.

“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 broadband adoption program in America. Comcast estimates a total of nearly seven million households now have access to low-cost Internet service, which literally doubles the total number of previously eligible households. The expansion is the most significant change in the program’s history.

Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to everyday life needs, and fear of the internet, the lack of a computer, and cost.

“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said Cohen.

The program includes multiple options to access free digital literacy training; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and low-cost, high-speed Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.

“The secret sauce is making the investment with our partners to provide literacy training and expose them to the important things they can do with the Internet,” said Cohen.

In making the announcement, Cohen also noted that since August 2011, Internet Essentials has connected millions to the Internet at home, most for the first time in their lives. Comcast’s announcement follows 11 prior eligibility expansions.

“This is not a press release program,” said Cohen. “You have to build partnership to reach and connect with these different populations. We want them to hear about the value and relevance of the Internet to them and subscribe to this program. We know significant hurdles remain. Too many people remain locked out.”

Pointing out the “equalizing potential of the internet” for low-income individuals, Cohen also highlighted U.S. Census data statistics.

“According to the data, households living in cities with the highest poverty rates, are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities not to have fixed broadband at home,” said Cohen. “For example, in Palo Alto, California or Bethesda, Maryland, where poverty rates are very low only about six percent of households do not have a broadband Internet subscription— 94 percent are connected.

“But in Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, where poverty rates are way above the national average, 60 percent or more of households do not have fixed broadband at home— that is, less than half are connected. That gap of more than 50 points defines the digital divide in this country.”

Individuals participating in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other government assistance programs may now apply for Internet Essentials.

The Company already accepts applications from households that have a student eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program; live in public housing or receive HUD Housing Assistance, including Section 8 vouchers; or participate in the Veterans Pension Program; and low-income seniors and community college students in select pilot markets.