Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Stay Connected
From holiday treats to homeschooling help, Comcast shares tips for navigating our new challenges.
With COVID case numbers rising again, it’s safe to say the holidays will look very different this year, and we’ll be spending our winter—like most of 2020—cooped up at home. Throughout the pandemic, our home has also become our classroom and office, and staying connected (both figuratively and literally) is more important than ever. We recently joined Comcast to learn what they have been working on to make our lives easier (and more festive) as we close out this year and continue to navigate the world of virtual school, Zoom meetings, and constant change.
A big challenge many families have had since life shifted online is managing usage and internet speed. During the school day, our little family juggles first grade classes on Zoom and two parents working from home—with lots of video meetings.
For our six-year-old, trying to learn in this setting can be frustrating. A strong connection when it finally does “click” and she proudly raises her hand and unmutes herself means the difference between growing her confidence or growing her frustration. So one of our most important questions to Comcast was how to improve and optimize internet performance, especially during those busy weekday hours. Here’s what we learned:
- Location matters. I never knew this, but apparently where you keep your router is really important! Comcast recommends keeping it in a centralized location, ideally in the room where you use your devices most—avoid the basement, garage, or far corner of your home. Also, it should be in an open area, clear of obstructions—so, not hidden in a cabinet… oops.You should also test devices in different parts of the home. Some devices may need to be used in the same room as the router because they aren’t as powerful.
- Do you have what it takes? You might have to increase your speed, since conferencing (via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.), video streaming, and gaming draw more bandwidth. If you’re on an important call, make sure your kids aren’t playing a game that uses a lot of bandwidth at the same time.
- Plug in. I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know you could do this outside of a dorm in the mid-2000s, but plugging your laptop directly into your modem is still a thing. “Hardwiring” your device to your router can ensure a strong and steady connection since it doesn’t use up the WiFi.
- Use the app to test your speed…and pause your kids. With the Xfinity xFi app you can run speed tests, and monitor your home WiFi network to see what devices are being used (and pause ones you aren’t using to free up bandwidth). Bonus: you can also use the app to pause devices and set screen time limits for kids!
Making Spirits Bright
Winter Break always presents the challenge of keeping kids busy and happy, and this year amplifies all of that. But while we are closed off from travel, extended family, and playdates at friends’ houses, we can use this time to cuddle close and binge all the holiday classics.
Comcast is making that easier than ever by integrating more streaming platforms like Hulu and the new NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock to accompany Netflix and Amazon Prime right into the X1 and Xfinity Flex experience. This is in addition to their own content library you can access On Demand, and they’ve made it even easier for the holidays. You can say things like “Kids Holiday Movies” or “Holiday Music” into your voice remote, and a landing page of curated content will pop up with hours of entertainment.
Say “Yule Log” into your Xfinity Voice Remote for a whole selection of festive music and happy scenes, from a roaring fire to Yule Dogs— literally just adorable puppies frolicking amongst Christmas presents to holiday music. And, you can say “Santa Tracker” into the voice remote and an interactive app will pop up and tell you where in the world he has visited, and when he’s expected to visit Philly!
Closing the Digital Divide and Expanding Access
The national crisis of the pandemic has laid bare the inequalities and challenges that can be exacerbated by a lack of connectivity. When Philadelphia School District originally debated going virtual back in March 2020, part of the hesitation was the very sobering concern that some students would not be able to access their education because they did not have internet access.
Since 2011, Comcast has connected more than eight million low-income Americans to the internet through its Internet Essentials program, which includes low-cost high-speed internet access and free digital literacy education. Internet Essentials has grown to become the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income families in the United States, and has been especially successful in helping connect Philadelphia.
The PHLConnectED program is designed to help accelerate Internet adoption for the students that remain unconnected and is the result of a months-long partnership between Comcast, the School District of Philadelphia, and city leaders and organizations. Under the program, the city expects to connect K-12 families to Internet Essentials or a mobile hotspot for two years for free, as well as provide support for families who need digital literacy training or assistance.
“For more than a decade, Comcast has been dedicated to tackling the digital divide nationally, and particularly here in Philadelphia,” said Dalila Wilson-Scott, President of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. “A problem as vast and complex as this one requires all of us to work together to ensure students not only get connected but also stay engaged with distance learning throughout this academic year.”
Additionally, Comcast announced a multiyear effort to upgrade community centers into “Lift Zones,” providing free WiFi so that students have a safe place to learn. This includes 25 Parks and Recreations facilities in Philadelphia alone – with more planned.
When the pandemic hit in March, Comcast rolled out a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan to help all families stay connected during this difficult time including opening Xfinity public WiFi hotspots across the country to anyone who needs them for free through the end of the year (including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers), and making its Internet Essentials program free for new subscribers for their first 60 days of enrollment. And to accommodate the increased usage from things like virtual school, Comcast permanently increased speeds for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers across the country.
Photographs courtesy of Xfinity/Comcast. Comcast supports the Philly Family Community.