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Digital Equity

More Ways Than Ever to Get Online This Academic Year

By Broderick Johnson
More Ways Than Ever to Get Online This Academic Year

As students across the country head back to school, during a time of much uncertainty, there’s a bright spot when it comes to an issue we’ve long confronted – the digital divide.  There is more support available to get low-income Americans, in urban and rural communities alike, connected to broadband than ever before.  Across all levels of government, as well as the private sector and community partners, there’s never been a better opportunity to fully close the divide and bring us closer to digital equity.  In fact, there is broad, bipartisan consensus about the imperative for massive public and private sector investment.  Closing the opportunity gap in this country starts with leveling the digital playing field, and we, collectively, have never been better positioned to do just that.  

Connectivity opens the door to a world of opportunity for those who remain unconnected – families in urban centers who haven’t subscribed to the Internet and millions in rural America who don’t yet have the infrastructure required to get broadband at home.  And, as we take a hard look at our nation’s global competitiveness, we simply cannot afford to leave our neighbors behind, deprived of the enormous benefits of digital connectivity.

In December of last year, the federal government created the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program to help Americans connect to the Internet during the COVID-19 crisis.  This program has effectively made broadband Internet free to anyone who still needs it and qualifies.  Congress also created the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) to support schools and libraries.  Comcast is proud to support both EBB and ECF, in addition to our own corporate programs and many other efforts just like them from the private and nonprofit sectors.  These efforts already represent the most comprehensive government broadband commitment to date, with billions available to expand service and get people connected.  And that is only set to increase with the infrastructure plan currently moving through Congress.

For several decades now, closing the digital divide has been at the forefront of my mind in my roles in the White House and in the private sector.  When I joined Comcast last month, I was so excited that I was asked to join in a leadership role that would include helping marshal the company’s unparalleled investments in achieving digital equity.  In fact, Comcast’s belief in the power of connection isn’t something new.  This year, we mark the 10th anniversary of Internet Essentials, our signature digital equity initiative which has helped connect a cumulative total of more than 10 million people to the power of the Internet at home.  And in the last year, to help our partners support the connectivity needs of their communities in light of the COVID-19 crisis, we also launched two innovative new connectivity solutions: Lift Zones and the Internet Essentials Partnership Program.

In the 10 years since Comcast launched Internet Essentials, we have had the privilege of sharing in so many of our customers’ successes.  For example, here are three amazing stories that I encourage you to learn more about.  There are short videos to watch too.

LaJoy Johnson-Law, a single mother from Washington, DC who did not have the Internet at home when the COVID-19 crisis began, and connected through Internet Essentials so she and her daughter could work and learn from home.  LaJoy recently signed up for EBB, telling us, “As a single mom, when you're dealing with bills...it's just really, really nice to have this resource to not have to worry about the Internet this month.”

Machelle Lake in Salt Lake City, a mother of two and former Internet Essentials customer who is now a development officer at one of our Lift Zone partner organizations.

Tommy Collins in Miami, a first-generation college graduate who is starting on his PhD, who connected to the Internet at home for the first time in high school, allowing him to do homework from the comfort of his home and plan for his college journey.

Earlier this year, Comcast committed to investing an additional $1 billion over the next 10 years to reach up to 50 million people from low-income families with the training, tools, and resources they need to succeed in our digital world.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that no single person, company, or nonprofit can solve the problem alone due to the nature of the challenges we face ahead: housing insecurity, literacy, lack of digital skills, language barriers, fear of technology, and even skepticism about the relevance of having broadband Internet at all.  

We have always said that closing the broadband adoption gap would take a comprehensive movement, and that is exactly what is happening today.  From our Comcast-led programs, to the many public-private partnerships across the country, to the multiple federal benefit programs, there are more pathways than ever for students, families, and individuals to get connected and learn digital skills, at little or no cost to them.

Connectivity alone won’t fully solve the digital divide – digital skills training is the other vital piece of the puzzle.  In order to reach people with this training, we’re partnering with organizations that share our commitment to creating a more connected and equitable world.  By supporting programs and initiatives that provide critical skills training to both kids and adults, we are helping to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed.  Partners to-date include the Per Scholas, NPower, Genesys Works, Reboot Representation, Coded by Kids, and Build.

If you or someone in your community needs to get connected today, there are a variety of resources available, including billions of dollars in federal benefits to cover the costs. Together, we can use these powerful tools to help close the digital divide.

Looking Ahead

While we still have work to do, we should be proud of our country’s progress toward guaranteeing digital equity for all.  By taking full advantage of the many resources currently in place and working together to raise awareness through partners and other trusted voices in communities across the country, we can all build a bright and equitable digital future, together.

Broderick Johnson is Executive Vice President, Public Policy and EVP, Digital Equity

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