D Kevin McNeirEducation

EXCLUSIVE: Comcast Partners with Cornerstone Schools of DC to Eliminate Digital Divide

With Expansion of Internet Essentials Program, 3 Million New Households Now Reached

“The Internet is no longer a luxury — it’s an essential part of our lives in the 21st century.”

The words above, stated by David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, Comcast Corporation, explain why, in 2011, the company launched an initiative to reduce and remove barriers that have long held millions hostage, primarily due to limited household incomes, and thus unable to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, Comcast – joined by three U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists, Dell Technologies and students from Cornerstone Schools of Washington, D.C. – shared news that the Internet Essentials program has been expanded to all qualified low-income Americans – including persons with disabilities and senior citizens – in its service area. The program now reaches 3 million newly eligible households.

“One-quarter of the U.S. population is now at risk of being left horribly behind without access to the Internet, making it impossible for children to do their homework, for youth or adults to search and apply for jobs, for adults to access health care benefits, for anyone to research all kinds of information they deem to be important — even for entertainment purposes like watching Monday Night Football or whatever else you like on TV,” he said.

Cohen, along with Cornerstone Schools officials, announced their recently formed partnership during a skating clinic at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast where they discussed the expansion of the Internet Essentials program to all qualified low-income families and individuals who reside in areas serviced by Comcast.

During the event, the children, all developing ice skaters, received the surprise of their lives as three U.S. Olympic medalists, each of whom had to rely on their prowess on the ice to bring medals home, assisted coaches with on-ice instruction for the students. The Olympic champions, each serving as Internet Essentials spokespersons, included Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, both Women’s Ice Hockey Team gold medalists and Rico Roman, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist, Men’s Sled Hockey Team and a Purple Heart recipient.

Even Slapshot, the official mascot of the Washington Capitals, took to the ice much to the children’s delight.

“Think about it,” Cohen said. “How many children get the opportunity to skate during practice with a trio of Olympic champions?”

But even with the fun and games, Cohen remain focused on the rationale behind the new changes to the Internet Essentials Program.

“Most people probably take the Internet for granted but for those without it, it’s a real need, a big need — even a social justice need,” he said. “Those being left behind and unconnected are disproportionately poor, of color or are faced with other forms of unequal treatment from among populations that need our help the most.”

Upon the program’s inception eight years ago, its target audience only included families with children eligible for free lunch under America’s national lunch programs. But in subsequent years, others have been given access as the rules for eligibility have changed, adding, among others, families living in public housing, low-income senior citizens and college students.

“This year, Comcast wanted to get rid of all the subsets and with this major expansion in the program, we have doubled the population pool from last year, adding three million households now eligible to apply and take advantage of Internet Essentials,” Cohen noted.

He discussed how Comcast chose to engage in conversation with Cornerstone Schools, located in the heart of Southeast, eventually concluding that a partnership between the two would result in mutually-beneficial results.

Cornerstone Schools, established on Christian-centered fundamentals, offers rigorous academic instruction in grades K-12 with its formative years going back to the last 1990s. Today, 89 percent of their graduating seniors continue to pursue higher education; African Americans make up 97 percent of the student population.

“Cornerstone Schools wasn’t a perfect fit as it relates to its students, their families and those who needed our assistance and who we felt would benefit the most from our recent expansion which dramatically impacts the rules of program eligibility. However, given the unquestioned effectiveness of their leaders, instructors, school district community and parents, it’s a perfect example of a school where the magic needed to hold our Internet Essentials Program together and make it work exists in formidable proportion,” Cohen said.

“We’ve connected more than 8 million low-income Americans to the Internet at home, including nearly 210,000 in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area – 90 percent of whom were not connected to the Internet at home until they signed up through Internet Essentials,” he said.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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