Cable and internet provider Comcast wants to close the digital divide in D.C., expanding its highly praised Internet Essentials initiative to 19 community centers throughout all eight wards.
Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Olympic gold medalists Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux joined Comcast Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David L. Cohen on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at the Beacon House in Northeast to launch the future of internet connectivity for those who need it most.
“We started Internet Essentials in 2011, it was really born out of a understanding from our company from the senior executives to call center operators about the importance of the internet at home,” Cohen said. “In the 21st century, it’s unthinkable that people would not have access to internet, for their kids to do their homework, information about health care, government programs, apply for jobs, access to news information and entertainment.”
Piggybacking off the success of Internet Essentials, Comcast introduced the first Internet Essentials Learning Zone in D.C., which will provide free Wi-Fi at community centers including the Beacon House to propel media literacy started at school.
Cohen said many of the participating community centers are already partners with a long-standing relationship.
“We wanted to cover every ward in the city,” he said. “This list is largely recognizable to me as high-quality, nonprofit organizations doing a terrific job in the community — we can leverage their capacity and help them do an even better job.”
The Internet Essentials Learning Zone and its network of partners plan to work together to create a continuum of connectivity that begins online in the classroom, community centers, computer labs and after-school programs, which then extends into homes.
“We understand how important the internet is, because when there is a internet outage, it’s like our lines explode,” Cohen said. “Our poor technicians, they’ll be driving down the street and people will run out to hail their truck to get their internet back. As the largest residential [internet service provider] in the country, we knew that if we weren’t going to step up and try to solve this problem, who was? So that’s the essence of the program.”
Comcast’s Internet Essentials is a comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program for low-income Americans. It provides low-cost, high-speed internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax, the option to purchase an internet-ready computer for under $150 and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.
“Internet Essentials customers are unbelievably pleased with the product, [and] over 90 percent say they would recommend the product to others,” Cohen said. “Number one answer: for their kids to do homework, number two: help adults in the household search and apply for a job. It’s literally everything we hoped the program would be used for.”
Cohen said he passionately believes that access to the internet levels the playing field for the disproportionately poor, who happen to be disproportionately people of color, which is the goal of the Learning Zone at organizations such as the Beacon House.
“Having the internet at home transforms the trajectory of your life,” he said. “It is essential to be able to compete in the 21st century economy. It’s essential to bringing the world closer and creating equalized opportunities for families as long as they all have access to the internet.”