Bringing New Digital Resources to Chicago’s South Side and Beyond
Last week, I had the special privilege of joining leaders in Chicago to announce further steps to reach even more underserved and unconnected residents in neighborhoods across the city. For more than a decade, Comcast has worked to advance digital access and connectivity – helping to close the digital divide and build pathways for success.
We’re investing $500,000 over the next three years in the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, where we’re partnering to launch new targeted efforts to get and keep more Chicagoans connected and provide access to digital tools and skills training. The funding will support digital navigators as well as create six new Lift Zones – our fully equipped technology centers that provide free WiFi, tech resources, and digital skills training.
The time I spent in Chicago was as heartwarming as it was inspiring. At the South Side YMCA, we were joined by kids who truly stole the show. Filling the on-site Lift Zone, their smiles beamed and their excitement could barely be contained first as they experienced the newly created tech hub and again as we surprised them with their own personal laptops to better ensure adoption at home.
With the school year ahead, they will be able to conduct research for assignments, log in to coordinate with classmates, tap into internships, and join the millions of people we’ve connected to the Internet and put on a path of unlimited possibilities.
Our incredible host and partners at the Y know better than just about anyone the impact our efforts will have on the local community. That’s why the team at the Y will be serving as our invaluable Digital Navigators, engaging underserved communities throughout the city. As Digital Navigators, they will help ensure more people get online and stay online through adoption focused initiatives such as the Affordable Connectivity Program or Chicago Connected that help pay for high-speed Internet and devices. Family by family, student by student, Chicagoan by Chicagoan, staff will bring the Internet into homes and help them use its many resources.
Their mission cannot be overstated: A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study found that Digital Navigators are key ingredients in successful efforts to close the digital divide. Of those who have worked with navigators, more than 85% connected to the Internet at home more frequently and 1 in 3 found a new job or secured a higher income.
Digital Navigators are the local voices community members know and trust the most. When they deliver the message of how important digital skills are and explain how to tap into available services like Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest private-sector, low-income broadband adoption program, or our free, WiFi-enabled Lift Zones, people listen and lives are changed.
But there is more work to be done. As of last month, the FCC’s Universal Service Administration Company estimates that of the 48 million Americans eligible for the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a $30 monthly subsidy to eligible households for broadband service and connected devices, only 13.1 million had signed up. With millions of homes still without Internet throughout the country, we must continue our efforts to reach as many as possible.
Comcast remains steadfast in our commitment. Through Project UP, our 10-year, $1 billion initiative to reach tens of millions of people, we’re building on our long and proven track record to reach even more communities, students, storytellers, and entrepreneurs – supporting new opportunities and setting dreams on a path to being realized.
As part of Project UP we’re deepening our investments in broadband connection awareness initiatives and digital skills programs, like the one announced in Chicago. Recognizing the critical role they play, our efforts are specifically designed to work in partnership with local, trusted, community-based voices to leverage their expertise within the communities they serve.
Digital adoption can provide new pathways to opportunity, but we must continue to actively engage the community in order to have the impact and reach that’s needed. Real, committed and ongoing community engagement is always – and must remain – central to all that we do.
With deeply invested local leaders like we have in Chicago, I know that the challenges ahead are not insurmountable. We can reach millions more. We can empower them with the tools to building better futures. And we can change lives. I, for one, can’t wait to see the impact that will have for generations to come.
Dalila Wilson-Scott is Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation and President of the NBCUniversal Foundation.