Celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Internet Essentials program, which provides low-cost broadband internet access to low-income households, Comcast has announced plans to spend $1 billion over the next 10 years to further narrow the digital divide.
Robert Grove, vice president of communications for the Comcast Keystone Region, said the company, which has already helped 10 million households with the program since 2011, will seek to assist 50 million low-income individuals with low-cost internet and other services to help them stay connected.
“It’s so important. Today you can’t really apply for a job without the internet,” Grove said.
In addition to providing the internet service at $9.95 per month for 50 Mbps of Internet speed to anyone in a federally approved assistance program that lives within Comcast’s footprint, the company is also donating laptops to low-income individuals through a number of community service partners and is expanding its Lift Zone program.
Lift Zones are community centers in low-income areas, which have dedicated internet access for children.
“With this, kids can access the internet if they can’t school at home for whatever reason,” Grove said.
With many students still learning remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said it expects students will be able to complete more than 25 million hours of remote learning at Lift Zone locations that have already opened, or will be opening soon.
There are a number of lift zones in Comcast’s Keystone region, including one in Harrisburg and seven in the Greater Reading area.
Grove said Comcast aims to connect more than 1,000 community centers with free Wi-Fi by the end of 2021.
He said the work the company has done over the last 10 years has already been impactful in Pennsylvania.
Since 2011 it has enrolled 290,000 households in Pennsylvania in the Internet Essentials Program, often working with community groups to help pay the $9.95 monthly cost for those most in need.
In fact, Pennsylvania has had the fourth-highest participation in the nation.
In Dauphin County, Grove said the company has around 11,000 households enrolled in the program with 8,600 of them in Harrisburg.
There are around 12,000 households in Berks County in the program, with 9,800 of them in the city of Reading.
“Together, we have been able to connect millions of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides. Today, we are rededicating ourselves to this mission to ensure that the next generation of students in America has the tools, resources, and abilities they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world,” said Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast Cable in a statement.
COVID-19 has made the impact of internet access much more vital for many households and that has impacted Comcast’s Internet Essentials program.
The company has offered 60 days of free Internet service to any new Internet Essentials customer who needed to get online during the coronavirus outbreak.
With so many new internet users coming onboard, Grove noted that educating people about how to use the internet is also key to the effort.
To assist with that effort the company has built up an online learning center that includes more than 200 digital literacy training videos, guides and reports that are free to anyone to use, including non-customers.
It has also developed an employee network of 3,000 Internet Essentials Ambassadors who volunteer their time to help spread the word about the program in their communities.