I knew that when David L. Cohen, Comcast’s Executive Vice President, first called me to discuss Internet Essentials, a Comcast program designed to address the digital divide, that it would have the potential to help thousands of Chicagoans. We had successful programs underway locally to address this issue, and I knew that Internet Essentials would add to their impact and help us help even more children and families gain access to the Internet at home, as well as purchase an affordable computer if they needed it.
It was only a short time later, in May 2011, that David and I stood together with elected officials and community leaders at the Woodson Library in Washington Heights, a neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, and announced the launch of the program. The announcement had national as well as local impact. The fact that it took place here shed light on Chicago’s history of tackling problems like the digital divide by harnessing the ingenuity and generosity of its private sector and the vision and resources of its public sector.
After the announcement, Comcast was able to quickly build new and enhance existing relationships with hundreds of community partners, ranging from the Chicago Public Schools and city libraries to community- and faith-based organizations, to help it spread the word about Internet Essentials to literally hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans. In fact, in Chicago alone, Comcast distributed more than a million brochures to eligible families in the program’s first year.
In August 2012, not even a year after the program started, David and I came together again with elected officials and community leaders at the UNO Veterans Memorial Campus, a charter school on Chicago’s west side,for a second press conference – this time, to provide results from the program’s first year. We announced that 7,000 Chicago families had enrolled, which was more than in any other city in the country.At the press conference, I challenged Comcast to double enrollment in the city in a year’s time, by August 2013. Today, I was proud to stand alongside David, the United Way, local school and elected officials and community leaders at the Johnson School of Excellence in North Lawndale, a neighborhood on the city’s west side, and announce that we indeed had doubled enrollment to 14,000, which would actually bring service to more than 50,000 people. Chicago, once again, topped the nation.
Earlier this year, the City of Chicago and Comcast received the "Outstanding Award for Public/Private Partnerships" from the U.S. Conference of Mayors in recognition of our work on Internet Essentials. David and I accepted the award. I appreciate the recognition, but for me and for the city, the greatest reward is when I hear from families right here in Chicago that have benefited from Internet Essentials and other programs like it. Today, at the press conference, a mother from a family that has Internet Essentials spoke about how it improved her life. She talked about how Internet access at home helped her children do their homework, do research for school projects and communicate with their schools and teachers, and how she even used it to help her do her job. Comcast told me about a mother one its employees met at a community event who even got a job by applying online using Internet Essentials service – she wouldn’t have been able to apply without it. So it works! At the end of the day, achieving numbers is important, and recognition is nice. But helping Chicago families like these is what Internet Essentials is all about.