Internet Essentials aims to bridge the digital gap

Program offers low-cost internet to low-income families

(MGN Online)

Nearly 19,000 Twin Cities low-income households have signed up for low-cost internet service since 2011. Internet Essentials, a Comcast comprehensive high-speed Internet program, provides low-cost, high-speed Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax, a purchase option for a computer for around $150, and access to free digital literacy training.

The national cable company has invested more than $280 million in cash and in-kind support, and over 2.4 million Americans — 600,000 low-income families — have benefitted from it, according to the company’s data sheet.

The program is available in nearly 48,000 schools in over 9,000 school districts in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Locally more than 72,000 individuals are in the program, said Comcast External Affairs Senior Manager Dave Nyberg.

A pilot program was started last year for public housing and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD)-assisted residents living in Comcast’s service areas to get low-cost internet service as well. It is “opening doors of opportunity for our next generation of Americans,” said outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro on a conference call that included the MSR.

“We’re thrilled to be working with HUD to help connect even more families…to the transformative power of having internet service at home,” added Comcast Senior Executive Vice-President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen.

“We all know that if you are not connected, you are going to be left behind,” reiterated six-time U.S. Olympic medal winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee in an MSR phone interview. She was named Internet Essentials national spokeswoman last fall. Her main role is to “help us to close the digital divide and raise awareness [of] all that the internet has to offer students and families,” Cohen said.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“For everyone to have [internet] access and not be left out” is important, explained Joyner-Kersee. The East St. Louis, IL native launched her charitable foundation in Los Angeles and moved it to her hometown in 1995. Since then, she has raised over $12 million for programming and in 2000 built and opened a comprehensive youth and sports facility, including a “homework center” and computer space for adults to complete on-line job applications, she told the MSR.

Her overall commitment to all children having access to high quality after-school programs and safe places in their own communities extends to providing computer and internet access as well, said Joyner-Kersee, pointing out that the digital divide still exists and it is important to her to see it finally close. All young people should have “a leveled playing field” in this regard, she said.

School children having access to computers and the internet after school in order to complete assignments is important as well, she said. “Some libraries are not open 24 hours.”

Along with Joyner-Kersee, “We have a number of local partners we’re working with to help spread the word about Internet Essentials, including the Minneapolis Urban League,” said Nyberg.

Joyner-Kersee is in the midst of the program’s “National Road Show” for the 2016-17 academic year. She said that her involvement as national spokeswoman is a no-brainer.

“I have a passion to use my platform…to help bring the word about Internet Essentials. I’m glad to be in the position to do it.”

 

For more information or to apply for the Internet Essentials program, go to www.InternetEssentials.com, or call 1-855-846-8376.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.