When the coronavirus pandemic struck unexpectedly earlier this year, households across the country, regardless of geography or income levels, needed to quickly pivot to a world that was moving almost exclusively online. We have always been committed to our Internet Essentials program, but across the business, we rallied like never before to rapidly meet the needs of our communities by providing a number of initiatives to lessen the crisis’ impact, particularly on low-income families. Here are three stories from Internet Essentials customers about what the program has meant to them.

Washington, D.C.: LaJoy J.

“I was so pressed,” LaJoy J., 31, told the March 30 audience of Lunch with LaJoy, her weekly live-streaming show. “I was like, ‘You guys, I don’t have the Internet,’ and the first question people asked was, ‘Why don’t you?’ Well, there’s a story behind that.”

According to the U.S. Census, this is the stark reality of broadband adoption in America today: while 95% of households in affluent cities have a wireline broadband subscription, only 50% of households in cities with high poverty rates do. As more Americans find themselves working from home for the foreseeable future, households without Internet access have become outsiders in a world that has become an online global village.

LaJoy is a disability advocate, and a busy single mother with a special needs child of her own. She knows firsthand how important representation is for the special needs community, which is why she ran (unsuccessfully) for the D.C. State Board of Education, in the November 2020 elections, to represent Ward 8. She also understands the importance of having broadband service at home, having recently completed an online graduate degree, in part, by using her cell phone’s data plan.

Three years ago, tough financial times forced LaJoy to cancel her home Internet service. Despite this challenge, she was thriving at her job at the nonprofit Advocates for Justice and Education. She was also just about to kick off her election campaign when the COVID-19 social distancing policies were put into place in Washington, D.C in March. In addition, with her daughter’s school moving online and LaJoy working from home, she quickly realized that her employer-provided mobile hotspot would not provide her with enough bandwidth to accommodate both of their Internet needs at the same time.

“I was finally getting some stability,” LaJoy said. “All these exciting things were happening, and then the pandemic hit. I had no Internet and I was like, ‘Dear God.’”

People were already struggling even before this pandemic happened.
LaJoy J.

Unsure where to turn for help, LaJoy reached out to her daughter’s school. Someone there introduced her to the Internet Essentials program. She applied online using her cell phone and, thanks to her daughter’s participation in the National School Lunch Program, was approved through an expedited application review process.

“It was like, ‘You’re approved; we are sending you a self-install kit’,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh snap!’ It was so simple. I was freaking out in my head.”

Now that she has a home broadband connection, LaJoy and her daughter are able to work and learn from home. LaJoy is also able to host her weekly live-streaming show, keeping them fully engaged in the things that matter most, especially during this challenging time.

Seattle: Lisa D.

Across the country in Seattle, Lisa D., 57, faced a similar dilemma. Just like LaJoy, this formerly homeless mother of two was reliant on her mobile phone, and sometimes the local public library, for Internet access. When the pandemic began in March, Washington State’s stay-at-home orders found her scrambling to find low-cost Internet service that could be installed quickly and with minimum fuss for her and her two school-aged children.

A cousin who knew about Lisa’s situation texted her the Internet Essentials application link, and within hours, she was approved.

“They said, ‘You will have Internet the next day,’” she remembered, tearing up. “Sure enough, I had a Comcast guy come to the door, and he left the equipment outside. My son set it up—it was very easy. I’m not comfortable with technology, but basically, we plugged it in the cable outlet. Now, both kids are able to use Chromebooks for their live classes. They’re both playing musical instruments – one trombone, the other clarinet – and they’re able to practice their scales live online with their teacher. I’m just so blessed that Comcast put this out.”

Philadelphia: Mark E.

For longtime Philadelphia resident, Mark E., 66, connecting his octogenarian mother, Rosemarie, to the Internet was about security and family connection. When the city instituted its shelter-in-place policies earlier in the year, due to the health crisis, he worried about his mother, who lives alone and once witnessed a burglary on her block. Mark wanted to install a home security system with a video doorbell, but Rosemarie had never had Internet service in her home. With her 90th birthday approaching, and the family planning a virtual birthday party for her, they needed to get her connected to celebrate together.

I think the Internet should be a staple. You need it today to survive, and the people that don’t have it will be less fortunate.
Mark Evans

Mark helped his mother apply for Internet Essentials, which he discovered in a pamphlet she brought home from a seniors’ activity at her church. As a Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) participant, Rosemarie’s application was quickly approved.

“I said, ‘Mom, listen, you can’t shut it off. If you shut it off or unplug it, the doorbell isn’t going to work,’ said Mark. “Because she grew up during the Depression, and she scrutinizes every expense, I’m thinking I’ve got to convince her this doorbell is something she needs, you know?”

Now that Rosemarie sees what she can do with the Internet in her home, Mark thinks he might be able to convince her to give a few other smart gadgets a try. “We may do something like a smart speaker with a screen,” he said. “Just put it on the kitchen table and, you know, tell it, ‘Call Mark.’ Then she can see her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, stuff like that.”

For more information, please visit internetessentials.com.