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Comcast Teams Up With Olympic Gold Medalists to Bridge the Digital Divide

The Lamoureux twins join Comcast to improve access and opportunity through Internet Essentials.

When Comcast launched its Internet Essentials program in 2011, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David L. Cohen was asked how they would measure the “success” of the initiative. Cohen recalls thinking that if they were able to even change 10 children’s lives by making the transformative opportunities of the internet more accessible, they would have made a meaningful difference.

 

Today, Comcast has connected more than six million low-income Americans to the internet through its Internet Essentials program, which includes low-cost high-speed internet access (for $9.95 per month), the option to purchase a computer for under $150, and free digital literacy education. In fact, Internet Essentials has grown to become the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income families in the United States.

 

The program is successful because it does not simply give people low-cost access to the internet, but addresses the three major barriers to broadband adoption: difficulty affording internet services, lack of a computer, and lack of digital literacy skills. Internet Essentials seeks to provide “wrap-around” support by working with nonprofits and organizations to reach these individuals, provide low-cost internet services and devices, and a suite of free videos, tools, and resources to help users learn vital digital skills.

 

“We are at our best when we use the power of connection to make the world a better place,” said Cohen of the program. According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, 81 percent of all U.S. households subscribe to broadband at home, but only 63 percent of households with an annual income of less than $35,000 do. Children who live within this “digital divide” are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to doing schoolwork and connecting with the world.

 

With this in mind, Comcast began Internet Essentials offering the program to families with a child who qualifies for the National School Lunch Program. They have since expanded it to other low-income individuals, such as those living in public housing, seniors in pilot programs in some cities, and most recently low-income veterans.

 

Comcast also expanded eligibility to all students who attend Title I schools (defined by the percentage of kids enrolled in the School Lunch Program), rather than limiting it to those receiving free or reduced-cost lunch. The School District of Philadelphia has been instrumental in telling parents about this endeavor. Superintendent William Hite recognized the value of internet access in education, and drafted a letter about the program that comes home with the report card—one piece of mail a parent is most likely to see—and this letter has served as a model for school districts across the country.

 

For this program to help the most people, they have to know about it, so Comcast has spent tremendous effort to spread awareness on the local and national level. Locally, Philadelphia has now become the third most connected city in the program, with nearly 200,000 low-income residents benefiting from Internet Essentials.

Philadelphia was also the surprising start of a national relationship to promote this initiative—bringing U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando in as ambassadors for Comcast’s community initiatives. Unsurprisingly, this relationship began with hockey.

 

The Lamoureux twins visited Philadelphia to work with Snider Hockey, a youth hockey program that serves underprivileged areas, and helps kids succeed both on and off the ice through academic support and community building. They learned of Comcast’s work in the community and around the country, and immediately saw the need and value of this initiative.

 

“We just felt like it was aligned perfectly with our core values, and ultimately our goal is to make an impact on the next generation,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told us in our interview. “We believe equality should be the norm… and the Internet Essentials program is literally changing lives.” Cohen commented that he believes that the Lamoureux twins’ “legacy story is not going to be hockey; it will be what they did for the community.”

 

Together, Cohen and the Lamoureux twins will go on a multi-city tour to raise awareness about the program. During a recent visit to Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken, NJ, the second stop on their tour, they surprised nearly 100 kids with free laptops and presented each with an “opportunity card,” which provides six months of free Internet Essentials service. Six low-income veterans received a similar surprise during a stop in Philadelphia. They described the joy on the faces of the children who received these life-changing devices, as well as the hope and gratitude of the parents.

 

“How could you possibly expect a child to do their homework efficiently and properly if they don’t have access to internet and a computer?” Monique Lamoureux-Morando told us stories they have heard on the tour of kids trying to write papers on phones, or trying to find public Wi-Fi hotspots to turn in their homework. “You can’t expect someone to be successful and to reach their potential if they have these roadblocks in their way. So that’s why we’re so passionate about this program because it truly does make a difference, and it’s so much bigger than sport and hockey and it sets kids up to be successful later in life.”

In fact, according to Comcast’s seven-year progress report, 94 percent of Internet Essentials users have seen a positive impact on their child’s grades. Additionally, 58 percent have said that the program has helped them, or someone in their family, find a job. The program is making a difference for entire families.

 

But you don’t have to be an Olympian to help spread the word about this program. Comcast’s awareness campaign operates on both the corporate and grassroots level, and they encourage people to ask their local schools and community centers if they are aware of the program for eligible families. “Even if you don’t need it, you probably know someone who does, and could greatly benefit from it,” explained Cohen. To learn more about Comcast Internet Essentials, and to help others in your community gain access to low-cost internet resources, visit www.internetessentials.com.

 

Comcast supports the Philly Family Community.

Photographs courtesy of Comcast.

Philadelphia Assistant Editor | Email tips to laura@familyfocus.org

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