At Comcast, we are making a real and meaningful dent in helping to close the digital divide in America.In the first 16 months of our Internet Essentials program – from August 2011 when we connected our first customer to the end of December 2012 – we’ve connected more than 150,000 low-income families, or 600,000 Americans, to the power of the Internet at home, most for the very first time. To put that number in perspective, that’s about the size of the entire population of Washington, D.C.or Boston. In those same 16 months, we’ve also distributed more than 25 million brochures for free, taken more than one million phone calls to our dedicated Internet Essentials call center, held digital literacy training sessions for more than 10,000 people, and sold more than 15,000 low-cost computers.
We also found our customers are enjoying being connected at home:
86 percent go online every day.
97 percent said their children use the service.
96 percent said schoolwork is the most common activity followed by:
89 percent surf the web for news and information
76 percent do social networking
73 percent use email
65 percent research healthcare and government services
54 percent pay their bills
51 percent search for jobs
Just last week, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released another report reminding us that the digital divide still persists – and so must we. The survey, of nearly 2,500 middle and high school teachers, is further evidence that the goals of Internet Essentials are right on the mark. Notably, the report found that 79 percent of students are asked by teachers to access and download assignments from an online site, which points to just how important it is to have Internet access at home. Eighty-four percent of the teachers were also concerned about the increased disparities between low- and high-income students and school districts. This is something we see at Comcast in the cities we serve. In some higher-income areas, more than 90 percent of households have Internet service, while in lower-income areas, less than 15 or 20 percent of households do.
We have more work ahead, as millions of Americans are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. For this reason, we are introducing several new program enhancements in 2013 to help even more families get online.
To start, we are expanding eligibility to parochial school and homeschool students, including cyber/online schools, bringing the estimated total number of eligible families we serve to 2.6 million.
Later this spring, we’ll launch an online application request form so families can more easily and conveniently order an application online anytime at their local library, community center or at a friend’s house. In addition to our dedicated call center, the idea to provide an online option to order an application came from feedback we heard from families who use the Internet, but don’t have service at home. We also received similar feedback from our non-profit partners, employees and volunteers. They suggested having this additional mechanism would give them the ability to help eligible families request an application on the spot during community events, back to school nights or digital literacy training sessions.
Additionally, in the second half of the year, we’ll introduce Internet Essentials Opportunity Cards so our non-profit partners and others can pre-purchase up to a year of Internet Essentials service for eligible families. We’re also implementing the option for Internet Essentials customers to choose to purchase Internet-ready desktops or laptops, in addition to the netbooks we already offer, for less than $150. We’ll start a pilot program in Philadelphia and Chicago soon, and we plan to roll it out to additional markets in the months ahead.
Finally, we want to celebrate the outstanding work of our partnering school districts to help close the digital divide. In conjunction with the celebration of Comcast’s 50th Anniversary, this fall we plan to recognize the top 15 performing school districts with a Gold Medal of Excellence Award. Winners will be announced later this fall, and each recognized school district will receive 50 laptops to either give to families or use in the schools.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve seen first-hand the difference Internet Essentials has made in the lives of families nationwide. In Charleston, I met a mother who set up her first email address. In Philadelphia, I spoke with a Reverend whose daughter and grandson can now complete school projects at home, and in Chicago, I learned about a teenager who used her Internet service at home to research and apply for colleges.
These stories are great examples of how Internet Essentials is not just about people getting access to the Internet at home. It’s also about what having the Internet at home can do to help families get ahead. With it, a father can apply for a job, a mother can research health care services, a teenager can study for the SATs or a youngster can learn to read or do math.
We could not have reached this point without the significant support from a host of partners who were willing to help spread the word including community partners and non-profit organizations; other technology companies; libraries; school districts, teachers and superintendents; members of faith-based organizations; mayors, congress people, governors, senators and state and locally elected officials; and thousands of people across the country (including many Comcast employees) as well the support from the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Tony Dungy, who agreed to be our first national spokesman, and countless others.
To learn more about our new and exciting milestones and enhancements, click here or visit www.internetessentials.com (for English) and www.internetbasico.com (for Spanish). For educators, third-parties and others interested in helping to spread the word, visit www.internetessentials.com/partner where you can order free brochures and other handouts.If you know a parent who should apply for this program, please tell them to call 1-855-846-8376 or, for Spanish, 1-855-765-6995.