Our Values In Action
Expanding Opportunity Through Technology
At Comcast NBCUniversal, we’re on a mission to ensure that all individuals — regardless of zip code or income — can harness the power of technology to achieve their full potential. We’re doing this in every community we serve, because we’re firm believers that when people can get ahead in school, in their careers, and in their lives, everybody benefits.
While broadband access is a real problem in rural areas and tribal lands, the more immediate opportunity is to focus on the issue of broadband adoption. The fact is that millions of Americans already live in communities with access to broadband networks, yet they choose not to subscribe. The question is, why?
The No. 1 barrier to broadband adoption — by a mile — is a bucket of complex digital literacy and relevance issues. Many of the unconnected don’t understand what the internet is or even how to use it. Equally important, they don’t understand the relevance the internet has to their daily lives and to the well-being of their families. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s latest data on the subject, 58% of nonadopting households cite not needing the internet or not being interested as the main reason for not adopting. The No. 2 barrier is that many low-income households don’t own a computer — and can’t afford to buy one. Barrier No. 3 is the monthly cost of subscribing to home broadband service.
The cruel irony here is that the more broadband technology advances, the further behind it leaves people without home broadband connections — who happen to be the very people who would benefit the most from the equalizing potential of the internet.
“People in underserved communities without technology, education, and training are being excluded from all types of opportunities,” says Dalila Wilson-Scott, Senior Vice President of Community Impact for Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. “It’s incumbent on us to support ways we can democratize technology and use it to empower our communities. If we, as one of the largest media and technology companies in the world, don’t focus on ensuring all people have access and opportunity to support their great ideas, then who will?”
Connecting the Unconnected
The cornerstone of our company’s efforts to address the three barriers to broadband adoption and close this digital divide is Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive internet adoption program for low-income households. Launched in 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than 8 million people to low-cost ($9.95 per month), high-speed internet at home. Additionally, 100,000 households have opted to purchase a heavily subsidized, internet-ready computer through the program for less than $150.
At the core of the program is supporting and collaborating with thousands of nonprofit partners across the country to not only raise awareness of Internet Essentials, but also to deliver high-quality digital skills training. Since the program began, we have provided $650 million in cash and in-kind contributions, reaching 9.5 million people, thanks to the support of partners who are training individuals new to the internet, teaching young people to code, and helping jobseekers navigate the complexities of an online world, among many other examples.
According to a 2019 study by the Technology Policy Institute, households connecting through Internet Essentials that also participate in digital literacy training are more likely to use the service for doing schoolwork, applying for a job, and accessing government services compared with those households that, for a variety of reasons, did not connect to the service. Even without training, households with Internet Essentials experience significant time savings and get help meeting their family’s needs by using the internet.
“We know from research that to make a difference in communities you have to have a sustained grassroots effort. That includes having relationships with nonprofits where people can go and get the training they need to learn how to use the internet. When we connect more people, the whole community benefits,” says Karima Zedan, Comcast’s Vice President of Digital Inclusion and Internet Essentials. “We’re really proud to support a cause so closely tied to what we do as a business.”
Everel Watson, a Baltimore mother of four, learned about Internet Essentials from the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, a nearby nonprofit where Watson’s children frequently went after school for homework assistance and other support. Before Internet Essentials, Watson would go months at a time without being able to afford internet at home. During those periods when a home subscription was out of reach, getting online meant working around limited library hours or trekking across the city to 24-hour cafes with free WiFi.
“Living without the internet at home is really tough, because it’s essential for me and my family,” she says. “I look at my kids now and see them learning. They don’t have to wait to get answers to their questions — the world is at the touch of their fingertips.”
Getting families like the Watsons connected at home opens up the information and resources the internet has to offer. “Digital inclusion and training are life-changing for those who have been cut off from the internet in the past, but it’s just the first step,” says Wilson-Scott. “Without basic digital skills, entire industries are off limits to our most vulnerable populations, which is why we are so focused on closing that digital gap.”
Read excerpts of a conversation between the leaders of the National Urban League and UnidosUS.