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Sep. 26, 2012 10:00 am

Comcast Internet Essentials launches year two: low-cost web-access program aims to rebound locally [VIDEO]

The new superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, Bill Hite, spoke about how the digital divide affects a lot of low-income students in Philadelphia. A commitment from Hite's administration is seen as key to the success of round two of the program, which is offered to families by validating subsidized school lunches -- fewer than 500 Philadelphia families made use of Internet Essentials, a shortcoming that Comcast leadership pushed on controversial, outgoing superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Reverend Robert Johnson had to cut cable and Internet from his home when he gave up his job as an office manager to become a pastor.

“It was rough on my 15 year old daughter being in the house without Internet and cable,” he said.  “Sometimes it meant venturing off to a friend’s house if she had to do homework or venturing off to the library in order to stay in touch.”

Now, through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, he has Internet in his house so he and his children can use it both for education and for fun. The program has earned positive reviews across the country and this summer featured a new online web literacy effort.

But can Comcast overcome an underwhelming first year locally for its signature, FCC-mandated low-cost broadband-connectivity service?

New Philadelphia School Superintendent Bill Hite, who spoke at the local unveiling of year two of the Comcast Internet Essentials program, is being portrayed as a new chance to better connect the program with low-income Philadelphians.

On Friday, Sept. 21, Comcast announced year two of the Internet Essentials program – a program which has provided 100,000 low-income families across the nation with broadband Internet access for $9.95 a month. In addition, it provides a voucher for a computer for $149.95 and access to free Internet literacy training.

The new superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, Bill Hite, spoke about how the digital divide affects a lot of low-income students in Philadelphia. A commitment from Hite’s administration is seen as key to the success of round two of the program, which is offered to families by validating subsidized school lunches — fewer than 500 Philadelphia families made use of Internet Essentials, a shortcoming that Comcast leadership pushed on controversial, outgoing superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Hite, on the other hand, was on hand to show his support.

“What happens to individuals who don’t have access to information? They’re at a distinct disadvantage,” Hite said. “If we think about how individuals access information for jobs, access information for resources, for support, for colleges and universities, if families do not have access or opportunities for that type information, then there is a difficulty in addressing and breaking the cycles of poverty.”

Mayor Michael Nutter also spoke at the conference, calling the digital divide “a civil rights issue about access to the future.”

Comcast has always tried to give back to the community, CEO Brian Roberts said about his dad, Comcast founder Ralph Roberts. He always wanted to make community involvement a top priority for the company, Roberts said to the crowd.

“I can’t think of a better way than trying to help those children have a chance in the next generation and century,” Roberts said.

Comcast will be announcing year two of the Internet Essential’s program in other locations such as Washington, D.C. next Monday, and Oakland, Calif., later this fall.

Watch a video on the unveiling.

This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.

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