At an event celebrating the indefinite extension of a broadband program serving low-income residents, Comcast officials made a second magnanimous gesture, gifting 55 refurbished laptops to Digital Harbor High and Liberty Elementary students attending the announcement.
The Monday event at the Digital Harbor Foundation in Federal Hill was attended by officials including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“This program is not about financial returns,” said David L. Cohen, executive vice president for Comcast. “It’s about social returns.”
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program was launched in 2011 in a partnership with the Federal Communications Commission. It serves 350,000 families in 39 states and Washington, D.C., including 7,400 families (nearly 30,000 people) in Maryland. In Philadelphia, an early market for the program, efforts have been made to increase enrollment in Internet Essentials, where only 10 percent of eligible families have signed up.
The program offers low-income families access to an inexpensive refurbished laptop or desktop (about $150) and $9.95 per month broadband service (5 megabits download, 1 megabit upload), a service that would normally run up to $39.99 per month. The program also includes digital literacy training via web, print and in-person instruction. In March, Comcast officials announced plans to indefinitely extend the program.
Anybody who signs up for Internet Essentials by the end of September will get six months free. The households whose children got free computers at the Monday event will get an additional six months on top of that, Cohen said.
The program, Comcast officials said, is aimed at closing the digital divide between more affluent, suburban communities and poorer, urban ones as Internet access becomes more and more necessary for schoolwork and job hunting.
“My daughter’s in sixth grade. Every day she needs a computer to do her homework,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Once in a while, when she’s not someplace where she has a computer, it’s a challenge.”
To qualify for the program, a family must be eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. In the 2013-14 school year, more than 70,000 Baltimore city students received free or reduced price lunches, according to Maryland State Department of Education data. More than 380,000 students receive lunch assistance statewide. Also, a family must not have been a Comcast customer within the last 60 days.
“These are the new ways you’re all going to provide for your families and make us stronger as a people,” O’Malley said.
Andrew Coy, the Digital Harbor Foundation’s executive director, called working with Comcast “a great fit.”
“It just makes so much sense,” Coy said. “Youth have access to both the Internet at home and technology education.”
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