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Comcast plans to invest $1 billion over the next 10 years to help further close the digital divide, provide digital skills training, grants, and free service and laptops. The goal is to sign up 50 million low-income students and individuals over the decade through digital literacy programs.
On the 10th anniversary of its Internet Essentials program, Comcast said that it has connected more than 10 million people in America to broadband internet at home since 2011. The overwhelming majority of them were not connected prior to signing up.
The move is a big step up from recent commitments. After I wrote a story about Comcast contributing $3.5 million in donations in February, I saw a lot of social media criticism about how that wasn’t enough, even as part of a larger $40 million commitment.
Comcast’s $1 billion commitment will include investments in a number of critical areas, including additional support for its ongoing Lift Zone initiative, which establishes WiFi-connected safe spaces in more than 1,000 community centers nationwide for students and adults by the end of 2021; new laptop and computer donations; grants for nonprofit community organizations to create opportunities for low-income Americans, particularly in media, technology, and entrepreneurship; and continued investment in the company’s landmark Internet Essentials program.
The company estimated that these new commitments will impact as many as 50 million Americans over the next 10 years. In 2021 alone, Comcast estimates students will be able to complete more than 25 million hours of remote learning lessons to further address the “homework gap” at the hundreds of Lift Zone locations that have already opened or will open soon.
“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across the country,” said Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson, in a statement. “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.”
The move drew applause from Marc Morial of the National Urban League, Rebecca DeHart of Fair Count, and Brent Wilkes of the Hispanic Federation.
In addition to capturing the total number of connections Internet Essentials has provided, the 10-year progress report also highlights other key metrics about the program. Comcast increased the program’s internet speeds six times, from 1.5 Mbps in 2011 to 50 Mbps today, without increasing the price of the program, which has remained $9.95/month.
It launched its Lift Zones program, which aims to connect more than 1,000 community centers with free WiFi by the end of 2021. It developed an Internet Essentials Partnership Program that has signed up hundreds of schools, school districts, and other organizations that have come together to help connect tens of thousands of students to the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And Comcast offered 60 days of free Internet service to any new Internet Essentials customer who needed to get online during the coronavirus outbreak. Comcast expanded the number of languages the Internet Essentials call center agents can speak to more than 240, plus American Sign Language, to help ensure language barriers don’t stop people from applying or getting online.
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