Aug 12, 2011

Internet Essentials - An Ambitious and Comprehensive Broadband Adoption Experiment

For more than a decade, there has been a national debate on how to close the digital divide between those of us who are connected to the Internet and those who, for a variety of reasons, are not. Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration have reported that more than 33% of American homes are still not connected to the Internet — some because broadband infrastructure has not been built out to their homes, but many more because of a host of adoption barriers even though broadband has been built right in front of their homes. A closer look at the research shows a disproportionately large number of households without broadband are low-income families and/or families of color.

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As the nation's largest Internet service provider, Comcast has launched Internet Essentials, the country's most comprehensive and ambitious broadband adoption program. Internet Essentials addresses all three of the primary barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified — 1) a collection of digital literacy issues, including fear of the Internet and a lack of understanding of how the Internet is relevant and useful; 2) the cost of a home computer and, 3) the cost of Internet service. Offered to low-income families with at least one child who is eligible to receive a free lunch as part of their enrollment in the National School Lunch Program, Internet Essentials provides low-cost Internet service, a voucher to purchase a low-cost computer, and a suite of free digital literacy training programs — in print, online, and in person.

The Internet is a transformative technology, with the potential to be a great equalizer and life-changer. It enables children to connect to their school's educational resources, adults to search for and apply to jobs online, and families to access important information about healthcare and government services. The cruel irony is that, because of the digital divide, the equalizing potential of the Internet is instead exacerbating differentials. We hope Internet Essentials will be a big step forward to helping these low-income families take advantage of all the Internet has to offer.

We unveiled Internet Essentials on May 29th at a press conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Last week in Miami, we launched the service with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and Volunteer Florida CEO Wendy Spencer. Also, last week, we announced Internet Essentials in the state of Delaware with Governor Jack Markell. Delaware, always a state of firsts, was the site of the first Internet Essentials pilot program that we ran earlier this spring to learn about the best way for us to roll the program out across the country. We're particularly indebted to the Governor and the schools that participated in the pilot program and we owe them a great deal of gratitude for all their time and energy.

Finally, earlier this week, I had the pleasure of going to the great state of Georgia to announce Internet Essentials with Governor Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and a true American icon, Congressman John Lewis, who gave a particularly inspiring speech about how the Internet has transformed the way the world's civil and human rights leaders communicate and effect change. He gave us all pause to think about what it was like to try to effect change with Dr. Martin Luther King before Facebook and Twitter became global phenomena in how revolutions both non-violent and violent alike are now being communicated digitally around the world. And his inspirational words gave all of us a greater understanding why access to the Internet is being called a 21st Century civil rights issue.

Over the next several weeks, we'll continue to roll out the program to more than 4,000 school districts in 39 states plus the District of Columbia. All across the country, we'll be enlisting the help of parents, teachers, local government officials, community leaders, and the media to spread the word about Internet Essentials. Additionally, we're working with school districts nationwide to include information on Internet Essentials to eligible households in their back to school mailings and in children's back-packs during the first day of school.

We're pulling out all the stops to help bridge this digital divide, but we can't do it alone. Even though 99% of homes in cities and towns that we serve are wired for broadband, average adoption rates are well over 50% in high income neighborhoods, but drop to 10% in lower income areas. While Comcast is spearheading this program to address the digital divide, it can't be just a Comcast issue; it's a critical issue for our country. And we've received some great help from a multiplicity of partners in designing and rolling out this program — from Dell and Acer in helping to bring down the cost of the computer hardware, the One Economy, Common Sense Media, and iKeepSafe in helping to develop the digital literacy curriculum, to Microsoft in helping to design the overall program, and to countless elected officials, school districts, and community partners. Yes, it truly "takes a village." In order for the U.S. to continue to be a global economic and educational leader, we need to increase our Internet adoption rates and level the playing field of opportunity for everyone.

We're asking our partners, neighbors, and community groups to get involved. Here's where you can go to help make a difference:

Tags : broadband adoption, Digital Literacy, Internet Essentials, John Lewis, National School Lunch Program, Rahm Emanuel

 
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