Employees Help Bridge the Digital Divide
But during a panel with senior company leaders, the 21-year Comcast veteran was intrigued when Tim Murnane, Comcast vice president of government and regulatory affairs in Boston, mentioned the Internet Essentials Ambassadors program.
Operated by Comcast, Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Internet adoption program in the country. The Ambassadors are Comcast employees who volunteer to lead a grassroots effort to connect low-income families to the power of the Internet in their homes.
"When my kids were in school, everything was manual – pencil on paper, and you were lucky if you got a calculator," says Rich, a grandfather to five children who still enjoys riding his ‘95 Harley Davidson Heritage Classic. "But now their work is completely technology-driven, in and out of the classroom. Without a computer or the Internet, some kids are behind on day one, and that’s not fair for them or their community."
For Rich, it was a no-brainer to sign up to become an Ambassador.
After work and on weekends, he and other employee Ambassadors attend community events, visit neighborhood schools and churches, and otherwise spread the word about Internet Essentials in their communities. In 2013, 1,300 Ambassadors attended more than 600 events.
Armed with Internet Essentials brochures, Rich’s first recruit was his wife, Cathy, a special education teacher’s assistant at Joseph H. Martin Middle School in Taunton, Mass. Cathy runs an afterschool program that offers students computer access, the only way some of them can get on the Internet. Cathy started passing out flyers to parents when they picked their children up, and several of them are now Internet Essentials families. "A few parents were apprehensive at first," Rich said. "But when the price didn’t go up, and their kids’ grades did, they were really relieved."
Rich also met with a school administrator at Cathy's school who quickly became an enthusiastic supporter. Together, they came up with a plan to mail Internet Essentials brochures to the families of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, about 46 percent of the student body. "Sometimes parents are too embarrassed or don’t have the time to stop by my table, and others want the program but find out that they aren’t eligible," Rich said. "By mailing the brochures, we make sure that every family that can receive Internet Essentials knows about it and can follow-up on their own time – it’s almost like a personal invitation."
Outside his local school district, Rich also works with nearby Boston and Lawrence Schools to spread the word about Internet Essentials. He’s quick to hand out his business card and even his personal cell phone number, or volunteer to back up another Ambassador at an event. "In trainings, I’m the one talking about Internet Essentials now, and I have a lot of techs who want to get involved," Rich says. "We’ve formed a network where we share contacts. It’s loose, nothing formal – but we never stop talking and sharing ideas."
About Internet Essentials
Launched in 2011, Internet Essentials provides low-income families with affordable high-speed Internet service for less than $10 per month. Families with children who qualify for the national free- and reduced-school lunch program also have the opportunity to buy an Internet-ready computer for $150, and receive free digital literacy training in-person and online. In two-and-a-half years, Comcast has connected 1.2 million Americans, or 300,000 families, to the power of the Internet in their homes, provided 23,000 low-cost computers, and supported free training for 1.6 million people. Learn more about Internet Essentials.