Today, on behalf of Comcast and the City of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and I are honored to accept the U.S. Conference of Mayors Outstanding Award for Public/Private Partnerships for our collaborative efforts to close the digital divide via Comcast’s Internet Essentials program. The program, which was launched locally and nationally by Comcast in the city of Chicago in May 2011, offers eligible families affordable broadband Internet access at home, as well as affordable computer hardware and free digital literacy training (online, in print and in person). To participate in the program, at least one child in the household must receive free or reduced-cost lunches through the National School Lunch Program.
In August 2012, we reconnected for a joint press conference to announce that more than 7,000 Chicago families had joined the program in its first year, making Chicago the top city in the country for Internet Essentials participation. At the press conference, Comcast also announced that it had doubled Internet Essentials’ download speed and made additional upgrades that enhanced enrollment momentum. The number of Internet Essentials connects in the city of Chicago doubled in 2012 and with over 11,000 families – and an estimated 44,000 individuals – we are well on the pace to more than doubling the number of Internet Essentials families this school year.
We believe that our partnership is what made Internet Essentials so successful in Chicago. The visibility created by the partnership helped foster collaboration with more than 1,200 local organizations, ranging from the Chicago Public Schools to community-based organizations, from libraries to faith-based institutions, and a host of others. Through this network, word about the program spread to millions of people. In Chicago alone, Comcast distributed more than a million brochures to families that could benefit from the program.
Our shared passion and vision for eliminating the digital divide and increasing broadband adoption made this partnership a natural one. About 30% of Americans – many of whom live near or below the poverty line – are on the wrong side of the digital divide. They’re often not computer literate, don’t have broadband access at home and don’t have a home computer or device capable of supporting high-speed Internet service. As a result, they face profound disadvantages in gaining access to a quality education, employment opportunities, news and entertainment, as well as health, educational, financial and other information that’s so essential to the way we live our lives.
Access to high-speed Internet service helps children with their schoolwork, adults find jobs and grow the city's economy and families learn and explore together. This award for the City of Chicago’s partnership with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program is evidence of what can happen when public leaders and the business community work together to craft innovative solutions to problems facing our citizens.
Comcast knew when it launched Internet Essentials that the support and engagement of community partners like the City of Chicago would help make the program successful. In Chicago, the city’s support resulted in a significant increase in the number of Chicago families with access to affordable broadband Internet service in their homes. Working together, we are enriching the lives of thousands of Chicagoans, and we hope to reach many, many more. To this end, we pledge to build on our accomplishments and work to make sure that each city Comcast serves has comparable success. For more information about Internet Essentials, please visit www.internetessentials.com.
This post was co-authored by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and David L. Cohen.