As we begin this story let’s take a step back in time and visit a high school in the last century. The teacher has just assigned the class a paper on Abraham Lincoln. She then divides the class into two sections. She tells the group on one side of the room they can go to the library and use all references at their disposal – biographies, the encyclopedia, whatever they can find. She tells the other side of the room they have to write their paper without any reference material other than what they already know about Lincoln.
David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer of Comcast Corp., uses this analogy to show how kids without access to the internet are forced to do their homework and are ultimately left behind.
The problem is huge. “In many schools half of the students don’t have access to the internet,” he says.
Comcast is determined to help change that scenario and open this window to the world for more students and others through its Internet Essentials program. It offers affordable high-speed internet access to low-income Americans, many of whom live in urban or rural communities and are often people of color.
Access is critical for doing homework, preparing for college, finding a job and for family health care, Cohen says. The problem is about one-fourth of the people living in the U.S. don’t have access – one fourth – and they are being left behind.
It’s called the digital divide, and it is a major contributor to a growing cultural divide in this nation.The problem must be addressed and fixed to ready the next generation to lead.
“If (people) don’t have the digital skills they can’t do their homework and certainly won’t be able to get a good job in the 21st century economy,” Cohen says. “We must close the digital divide to create the workforce of the future.”
In a recent survey Comcast found 98 percent of its customers use the internet for homework, and 93 percent of them said having that capability improved their children’s grades.
“What is depressing is that it makes me wonder what they did before their kids had the internet,” Cohen says.
Not only did the survey show the internet help improved grades, 62 percent of those responding said they used it to find a job.
That kind of connectivity goes a long way to improve the outlook for families and neighborhoods.
Cohen says Comcast hopes to do more to close the digital divide. Its Internet Essentials program offers access for $9.95 a month plus tax with no credit check, no installation fee, no term contract and in-home WiFi is included.Users can also purchase a computer for $149.99 plus tax and attend classes that teach them how to best use the internet.
In addition, Comcast just announced three program enhancements that will increase connectivity for Detroiters.
For the fourth time in six years, it will increase the program’s Internet service speeds, this time from 10/1 Mbps to up to 15/2 Mbps. More speed was the number one requested enhancement from Internet Essentials customers. The increase will improve streaming quality in the home (15 Mbps is three times the speed necessary to view a high definition video), especially when multiple devices are connected to the Internet at the same time.
Internet Essentials customers will now get 40 hours of free out of home WiFi access per month to the company’s growing network of 18 million Xfinity WiFi hotspots. This WiFi access is in addition to the free in-home WiFi Internet Essentials.
SUPPORT FOR SENIORS
There’s also good news for senior citizens. Comcast is expanding its pilot program for low-income senior citizens to include Detroit. That will give them more access to health care information as well as keep them better connected to family members and every day events.
The company is also working with two nonprofit partners in Detroit to improve internet access and digital literacy for more than 7,500 people.
JOSEPH WALKER WILLIAMS COMMUNITY CENTER TECH HUB
It will upgrade the Technology Corridor at the Joseph Walker Williams Community Center with new computers, smart boards, and other equipment. The work space will also be improved and become more flexible. This investment will allow the Center to scale its digital literacy training classes for its 1,650 clients.
DIGITAL LITERACY TRAINING – BOLL FAMILY YMCA
A second investment will support digital literacy training for more than 6,000 young people who participate in a number of programs at the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, including college and career readiness, family financial literacy training, and digital arts and media classes. Comcast will also sponsor a computer lab at the Boll Family YMCA and is donating more than 100 computers, along with six months of complimentary Internet service, to seniors and youth at both organizations.
“It takes a village,” says Cohen. “We have fantastic partners.” Those partners include school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners as well as six-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Joyner-Kersee and Cohen were in Detroit to announce the new investments. While many young people may not remember her extraordinary Olympic career, their parents do. Her endorsement goes a long way when encouraging families to make the internet available, Cohen says.
Over the past six years Comcast has invested $350 million in cash and in-kind donations to help close the digital divide, Cohen says. So far that investment has connected more than 13,000 low-income households benefiting more than 52,000 Detroiters. Across Michigan, 50,000 low-income households have been connected, benefiting nearly 200,000 Michiganders. Nationwide the company has connected more than four million low-income Americans, in one million households, to high-speed Internet service at home.
“The internet has a transformational impact,” says Cohen, but he says far too many are on the wrong side of the digital divide. There is much more to do.
Lead photo: Comcast Corporation Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen and Detroit City Councilmember (District 5) Mary Sheffield distribute free laptops to more than 60 seniors at the Joseph Walker-Williams Recreation Center in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Comcast