Students receiving free laptops at a Project UP event.
Digital Equity

Partnering UP to Close the Digital Divide in California

By Broderick Johnson

Throughout my career, there have been times that have simultaneously filled me with optimism for the future—and reminded me why the work we do today is so important.

Recently, I spent a busy three days in California visiting Oakland, Fresno, Stockton, and San Francisco. I met with teenage coders starting their own businesses, senior citizens getting connected to the internet for the first time, community-based leaders committed to bridging divides, and public officials doing what it takes to make a difference across the Golden State.

And the best part of my tour? Sharing insights and learning from an inspiring group of people.

In each community, I made it clear that, together with our community partners, Comcast is 100% committed to getting 100% of low-income households connected to high-speed internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bridge the digital divide. And everyone I spoke with in California—politicians, activists, community leaders—is ready to seize that opportunity. I returned to the east coast more confident than ever that if we work together, we can get millions of more Americans connected to the internet’s incredible resources.

I joined Comcast over a year ago because of its decade-plus commitment to addressing digital equity. Looking ahead, I’m eager to build on that foundation through Project UP and our other innovative initiatives.

Investing in Communities

Ultimately, closing the digital divide starts at the local level. That’s why we rely so heavily on our community partners. After all, to make an impact in a local neighborhood, you have to know the people who live there day-in and day-out.

To help do our part, in Stockton and Fresno, I was thrilled to announce that Comcast was giving a cumulative total of $275,000 to three separate entities: Saint Rest Baptist Church, Bitwise, and El Concilio California. These funds will help ensure our partners can do even more of the work they already do so well – helping students, seniors, adults, and families access the tools and resources they need to get connected to the internet and tap into their own unlimited possibilities.


Invested by Comcast in Saint Rest Baptist Church, Bitwise Impact, and El Concilio California

I also had the privilege of speaking with a number of young, Black men in Oakland, otherwise known as the “Geniuses” of The Hidden Genius Project. Even though we grew up several decades (and several thousand miles) apart, these impressive young men face many of the same challenges and opportunity gaps I did on my own life’s journey.

Fortunately, these men have tremendous resilience, impressive drive, and strong role models in their corners. It was inspiring to see what can be achieved through community mentorship and equitable access to the tools that unlock opportunity.

Partnering with Local Leaders to Provide Free WiFi

Unlocking opportunity is also the reason why we launched six new Lift Zones—one at Saint Rest Baptist Church in Fresno and five at several El Concilio locations across San Joaquin County. Our award-winning Lift Zone program offers free WiFi, which makes it possible for students, seniors, families, and adults to get online at their favorite community center where they can get technical help if they need it or just have a place they love go to where they can spend time exploring the internet.

Since 2020, Comcast’s Lift Zones program has enabled nearly six million free WiFi user sessions nationwide. And in California, I got to announce that we have exceeded our expanded goal of launching 1,250 Lift Zones all across the country. To celebrate this milestone and amazing accomplishments by our partners, we brought together more than 100 executives, program directors, community leaders, public officials, and other key stakeholders from around the Golden State for our first ever Digital Equity Summit.


Lift Zones launched by Comcast

At the summit, I met Eduardo Gonzalez of the Office of Community & Economic Development, California State University, Fresno. In that role, he leads an innovative digital navigator program at Fresno State University. After speaking with him, I came away convinced that if we work together, we’ll continue to come up with bold solutions for getting more people online, especially if we train effective digital navigators who can go and reach out into their respective communities.

Essential Tools

The late American icon Congressman John Lewis called internet access, “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.” What I’m confident he meant is that, like voting, the internet is a necessary condition for full participation in our society. It’s an essential tool for seeking knowledge and opportunity, for staying informed and involved, for participating in the democratic process, for making voices heard and for completing simple daily tasks faster and easier, and for achieving economic mobility and success.

But to reap the full benefits of internet access, people need more than just a connection. They need the right devices—devices that allow them to do more than text and check sports scores. Every household, at a minimum, should have a computer. That’s why, one of my favorite parts of these community events are the laptop giveaways.

And this past week didn’t disappoint. Comcast surprised more than 440 students, seniors, and families at The Hidden Genius Project, Saint Rest Baptist Church, and El Concilio Academy with free laptops. I gave devices to students young and old, many of whom told me this is the first computer they have ever had that they could call their own. The joy on their faces said it all. I knew I wasn’t just handing them a laptop—but a powerful tool. A tool with the potential to level the playing field, open doors to knowledge and opportunities, and change lives.


Laptops donated to The Hidden Genius Project, Saint Rest Baptist Church, and El Concilio Academy

I’m truly grateful for the time spent in California and immensely proud to work with trailblazing leaders like Mayor Kevin Lincoln of Stockton; Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy of Fresno; Aumijo Gomes, Deputy Director, Strategic Initiative, City of San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and their Families; Clay Garner, Chief Innovation Officer, City of San Jose; Brandon Nicholson, Co-founder of The Hidden Genius Project; D.J. Criner, Pastor of Saint Rest Baptist Church; Irma Olguin Jr., Co-founder and CEO of Bitwise; Jose R. Rodriguez, President & CEO of El Concilio California; Gloria Corral, President & CEO, Parent Institute for Quality Education; Eduardo Gonzalez, Office of Community & Economic Development, California State University, Fresno and many others. Their commitment to generating real change makes us proud to be their partners.

California is famous for its sunshine, and my trip to the state was indeed filled with light—and with hope for a future of unlimited possibilities.