Comcast‌ ‌Announces‌ ‌Plans‌ ‌to‌ ‌‘Accelerate’‌ ‌Digital‌ ‌Equity‌ ‌Efforts‌ ‌

February 8, 2021 by Reece Nations

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast announced the company would escalate its commitment to address digital equity by closing the digital divide through addressing digital literacy and the homework gap.

Since 2011, Comcast has facilitated the largest low-cost Internet adoption program for low-income Americans, known as “Internet Essentials,” according to a release. 

Additionally, the company has donated tens of thousands of free laptops to students and families across the country over the years and invested $700 million in digital literacy, skills training initiatives, and awareness programs. 

The issue of reliable internet access for students from low-income families is longstanding but was exacerbated by the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center. In March 2020, Pew found that roughly 58% of 8th grade students in the United States use their at-home internet to do homework “every day or almost every day.” 

Further, Pew’s analysis found the issue of school-age children lacking the connectivity they need to complete schoolwork at home is more a prominent problem among Black, Hispanic and low-income households. Around 35% of households containing schoolchildren between the ages of 6 to 17 with an income below $30,000 annually lack at-home high-speed internet connections, compared to only 6% of households with $75,000 or more in annual income. 

“We’ve been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there’s never been a greater need than now,” Comcast Cable President and CEO Dave Watson said in a written statement. “As a media and technology company, we have a unique opportunity to provide a meaningful connection to the communities we serve — whether that’s through access to the Internet, programs to support creativity and digital literacy and skills training for young people, or workforce development opportunities for adults. Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come.” 

Comcast will increase its download speeds up to 50 megabits per second and its upload speeds up to 5 megabits per second at no cost for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, according to a company release. The company will continue to offer 60 days of free service to new Internet Essentials customers who enroll before June 30, 2021. 

In addition, Comcast plans to accelerate its multi-year program offering safe spaces for students participating in distance learning to access free WiFi, known as “Lift Zones.” Comcast plans to establish 1,000 Lift Zones by the end of the year by partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. 

“Transforming our Boys & Girls Clubs into Lift Zones has made a huge difference in the lives of the students we serve in Philadelphia,” Lisabeth Marziello, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, said in a written statement. “Many of the kids who come to our clubs either don’t have the Internet at home or they have it, but they can’t study at home for a variety of reasons and they need somewhere to go. We’re so happy to be able to work with Comcast to give our students a safe, clean space where they can stay in school even when schools are closed.” 

Comcast will also expand its philanthropic investments in “organizations working to increase digital equity” by investing $3.5 million with partners including CodePath, Genesys Works, Jobs for the Future, NPower, Opportunity at Work, Goodwill Industries International, YWCA and the Philadelphia Youth Network. This commitment is part of more than $40 million in investments to companies that “share the company’s goals of advancing social justice and equality.”

The company has also invested in Per Scholas, Coded by Kids, Center for Black Innovation, Inner-City Arts, and BUILD.org as part of its commitment to combat digital inequities. These efforts are aimed at generating pathways in media, technology, arts, and entrepreneurship for poor and underserved communities and communities of color. 

“Comcast’s investment in CodePath will help us double our impact to reach nearly 5,000 students and over 60 university partners in 2021,” Michael Ellison, co-founder and CEO of CodePath, said in a written statement. “As disadvantaged communities struggle with mass job losses in the wake of the pandemic, our courses are one of the few holistic programs placing thousands of underrepresented minorities into our nation’s most competitive technical roles. Through partnerships with CodePath and many other dedicated organizations, Comcast continues to demonstrate its commitment to creating tangible and systemic change, while providing new opportunities for people of color in the tech sector and beyond.” 

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