Internet Essentials

Powering Digital Literacy In Little Rock

More than 30 percent of Americans lack access to high-speed Internet in their homes, which means 30 percent of Americans lack equal access to education, employment, and healthcare opportunities.

Through Internet Essentials, which is the nation’s most comprehensive broadband adoption program, Comcast is working to close the digital divide for low-income families by providing Internet access for less than $10 a month, discounted computers, and free digital literacy training. Since we launched Internet Essentials in 2011, more than 500,000 families – or 2 million low-income Americans – have been connected to affordable, high-speed broadband at home.

To maximize the impact of Internet Essentials, we work with our local and national community partners to identify eligible families - partners like the Little Rock School District in Arkansas. More than 1,500 families have enrolled for Internet Essentials in Little Rock, including many who learned about the program from the school district.

As a young boy, Sandy Becker watched The Six Million Dollar Man, a TV show about a bionic astronaut. The show’s tagline was "We can rebuild him – better, stronger, faster" – a phrase Sandy uses today to describe Computer Power Day.

As internal auditor for Arkansas’ Little Rock School District, Sandy’s job is to help keep the 51 schools in his district running as efficiently as possible. So when the state passed a law in 2005 allowing schools to refurbish computers and sell them to parents at a discount, Sandy’s district jumped at the chance. A group of teachers, computer programmers, administrative staff, and students coordinated their resources to kick start a refurbishment program.

"The average life span of a school computer is five years," Sandy explains. "The warranties have expired and the machines are showing the wear and tear of multiple users, so we’re obligated to replace them."

That’s where Sandy’s bionic computers come in. "Just because a machine isn’t suitable for the classroom doesn’t mean it can’t be refurbished for home use," Sandy says. He formed a partnership with Little Rock’s Metropolitan Career-Technical Center to offer its best students part-time work refurbishing school computers destined for the dust heap. Once the machines were wiped and repaired, parents from the district could purchase the computers for $40.

"The program was making a real impact, but we had a distribution problem," Sandy says. The Little Rock School District covers nearly 100 square miles near the state capitol, and Sandy and his team spent a lot of time traveling from school to school, distributing computers one school at a time. "It just wasn’t an effective way to keep up with the demand we saw in the district."

Evangeline Guest-Parker (right) announces the winner of a laptop giveaway at Computer Power Day.
Evangeline Guest-Parker (right) announces the winner of a laptop giveaway at Computer Power Day.

Kathy Wells saw the demand, too. As president of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods, Kathy saw kids in her community clamoring for computer access. "Kathy came up with the idea of hosting a big annual event where we could distribute hundreds of computers in a single day," Sandy recalls. "I wasn’t sure we could pull it off without a sponsor, but Kathy already had Comcast in mind."

Kathy had recently seen a commercial for Internet Essentials from Comcast. Today, Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest broadband adoption program for low-income families, but in 2012, the program was in its first year, and Kathy and Sandy scheduled a meeting at Comcast’s Little Rock office to find out more.

"It was a match made in heaven," says Comcast public relations specialist Evangeline Parker-Guest (pictured above right). "Sandy and Kathy were expanding computer access to students and their families, and Internet Essentials took that computer access to the next level with discount broadband service." In 45 minutes, Computer Power Day was born.

More than 150 computers were distributed to Little Rock families at the most recent Computer Power Day in March 2015.
More than 150 computers were distributed to Little Rock families at the most recent Computer Power Day in March 2015.

The first event was held in May 2012. Scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m., parents started lining up outside the Henderson Middle School gym as early as 7 a.m. The Little Rock School District provided attendees with a discount computer and basic training. Comcast provided workshops on digital literacy and computer safety, as well as information on how eligible parents could sign up for Internet Essentials. More than 200 computers were distributed on the first Computer Power Day, and plans were quickly put together for a second event the following October.

Since then, Comcast has partnered with the Little Rock School District to host seven Computer Power Day events. "We’ve enhanced and refined Computer Power Day over the years," Sandy says. "We now have workshops for beginners and intermediate users, and interpreters for our Hispanic families. We’ve also opened up the trainings for anyone who is interested, so even if you’re not picking up a computer that day, you can come and learn how to use one."

"Little Rock School District has been an incredible Internet Essentials partner, not just on Computer Power Day but throughout the school year as well," says Evangeline, adding that 70,000 Internet Essentials brochures and other materials have been distributed to Little Rock school District parents. "They understand how critical Internet access is to a 21st century education, so they invite our Internet Essentials Ambassadors to present at key events and include our brochures with their materials."

Click here for more information on Internet Essentials.