Last Thursday, in Oakland, California, Comcast teamed up with 2x Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Simone Manuel to make several announcements. It was yet another moment of many more to come during the 10th anniversary of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which is designed to help address digital equity issues and close the digital divide for low-income students and adults.

Simone spoke virtually with a group of students at the Manzanita Community Center, which is run by the City of Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Department. That center, along with 19 other Oakland Parks and Rec facilities, were announced as 20 of the newest Lift Zones Comcast is rolling out as part of its ongoing effort to provide free WiFi to 1,000 community centers across America by the end of this year. These safe spaces will help ensure thousands of low-income students can remain online to continue to participate in distance learning, even if their schools are closed.

Lift Zone sites complement Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which has helped connect more than eight million low-income people to the Internet at home. This includes more than one million residents across the state of California, which is the number one state in terms of overall participation in the Internet Essentials program.

In addition to a $100,000 grant to the City of Oakland Parks and Recreation Foundation, Simone surprised a group of about 30 students with the announcement that Comcast was giving away 1,000 free laptops and 12 months of Internet service for eligible families in Oakland.

“The current health crisis has had a disproportionate effect on many students from communities of color, and I want these kids to know that there are people rooting for them,” said Simone Manuel, the first African American female swimmer to win gold in an individual swimming event at the 2016 Rio Games.The lack of Internet access in low-income homes adds unique challenges to families that are trying to manage distance learning. I’m pleased to partner with Comcast to bring awareness to this important issue and help close the digital divide.”

Oakland’s Mayor, Libby Schaaf, also spoke to the students in a pre-recorded message. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on many inequities in our society including the digital divide. Parents who are essential workers or those who can’t work from home have been questioning how to handle distance learning for their children,” said Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf. “That's why we are grateful that Comcast has partnered with the City of Oakland to provide these crucial technology resources and stepped in to fill an important need in the community.”

Since the Internet Essentials program’s launch in 2011, Comcast has donated tens of thousands of free laptops to students and families across the country, and invested hundreds of millions in digital literacy, skills training and awareness programs that have reached millions of people. Comcast also recently announced it was doubling the program’s Internet download speed to 50 Mbps and increasing the upstream speed to 5 Mbps for all new and existing customers at no additional cost. In addition, the company continues to offer 60 days of free service to any new Internet Essentials customer who signs up before June 30, 2021.