For Marcia Thomas and her family, having affordable broadband Internet access in her Ward 8 abode is nothing short of miraculous. The 40-year-old single mom now goes online in the comfort of her own home.
"It has been a great benefit for us, as teachers put grades online I can check, and my job offers online classes through Cornell University, which I do instead of going to physical classes," said Thomas whose son, Lance Jackson, is a senior at Ballou High School.
Last year when Thomas signed up, her daughter, Mariama, completed college applications and signed up for the SAT online. She is a freshman at Trinity University. "I used to print out their homework at my job," said Thomas, an accounts receivable specialist at a downtown hotel. "They would call me, say what their research is, and I would print it out."
"It's been good for me as the library on South Capitol closes early," said Lance, 17, who also uses library computers but prefers in-home Internet. "It helps me with my AP lessons and keeping up with my stats for football, colleges and scholarships."
The Thomas family is one of 2,000 families [or 8,000 residents] in the Washington, D.C. area connected to the Internet through Internet Essentials, launched last year by Comcast Corporation. Now in its second year, Comcast continues to enhance the program with new processes to ramp up enrollment.
To date, more than 100,000 low-income families [or 400,000 Americans] nationwide have benefitted from residential Internet service for less than $10 a month, which includes no price increases, activation fees or equipment rental fees; a voucher to purchase a computer for less than $150; and access to free digital literacy training in print, online and in-person.
For Comcast's David Cohen, no family in America should suffer the digital divide.
"The Internet now is not just about FaceBook and video games and not just for the well-to-do," said Cohen, 57, executive vice president of Comcast, an entertainment, information and communications provider. "Comcast like most other corporations only take job applications via the Internet, so if you don't have access, that's another area that widens the gap."
Cohen, a former chief of staff for then-Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, spent more than 20 years advocating for educational parity.
"A kid is a kid. Give poor kids the same tools and the same opportunities and they will learn like the wealthier kids," Cohen said. "As a society we have to provide fair and equal opportunities for all kids and that's what Internet Essentials is able to do, and these kids are going to be just fine."
As the country continues as a digital nation, many low-income families are at a disadvantage without Internet services at home. District families are eligible for Internet Essentials if they have at least one child who qualifies for free or reduced lunch, lives where Comcast offers Internet, is not a subscriber nor have an overdue Comcast bill.
Cohen joined Mayor Vincent C. Gray, NBC4 president and general manager Jackie Bradford, former NFL Coach and Internet Essentials' spokesman Tony Dungy and community partners at a year-two kickoff at Kramer Middle School in Ward 8 on Sept. 24. In the classrooms, students pored over Apple laptops, something the principal seemed especially pleased about.
"For the past few years, we've been overhauling one of the lowest performing schools as Kramer became a pilot school for finding creative ways to integrate online technology," said Kwame Simmons, principal for three years, about using the blended school model. This combines personalized online programs with face-to-face time with teachers. "Through Internet Essentials, our students are being provided the tools they need to succeed."
Comcast will sign up eligible families through the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Qualified households remain eligible if at least one child receives free or reduced-price school lunch.
"Reliable broadband access helps our children become stronger students and prepares them for an increasingly interconnected world," Gray added. "I am proud of the work we have done to close the digital divide in Washington, D.C., but there's much to be done. I'm urging all members of our community to spread the word and the need to connect more families."
For general information about Internet Essentials, visit www.internetessentials.com for English and visit www.internetbasico.com for Spanish