Closing the Digital Divide in America

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This is a guest post by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation.

Chance the Rapper (left) and Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen present laptops to students from Chicago’s Alcott College Prep at a recent event to announce new Internet Essentials milestones. (Comcast)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 52 percent of low-income households in the United States subscribe to broadband at home. What’s more, for certain low-income groups, broadband adoption still falls more than 20 percentage points behind the general population, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Today, access to the Internet at home is essential for all family members to keep up in this digital and highly competitive world— so much so that it’s hard to believe there are still so many families without it. Whether doing homework, applying for college, searching and applying for jobs, paying bills, accessing health care or using social media, think for a second about how you would do all these things if you didn’t have the Internet at home? Would you park your car in your nearest McDonald’s parking lot so you could hand your smartphone to your child to use the free Wi-Fi to write a book report? Would you send your daughter across town on a bus at night to a computer lab so she could do her homework? Would you walk a mile to your local library to sign your son up for a 30 minute session on a computer? I’ve traveled all around the country hearing stories from mothers and fathers who had to do all of these things for their kids because they didn’t have Internet service at home. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

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In August 2011, we set out to try to help solve this problem by introducing Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

That was three and a half years ago. Recently, we were proud to announce that thanks to the support and hard work of thousands of community partners, elected officials and dedicated employees, we have connected more than 450,000 families, or 1.8 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home. For a frame of reference, 1.8 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities as well as 12 states. That is real and meaningful progress.

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On a local level, the Chicago metro area leads the way in closing the digital divide for the fourth year in a row. More than 50,000 families, or 200,000 low-income Chicagoans – nearly 25 percent of its eligible population – have signed up for Internet Essentials. Second best is the Miami metro area, with more than 41,500 families, or 166,000 low-income residents – 28 percent of its eligible population. The Atlanta metro area is third best with more than 25,000 families, or more than 100,000 low-income citizens – almost 20 percent of its eligible population.

Crossing the digital divide is not just about getting families online, it’s also about teaching them how to use the Internet’s resources to its fullest potential. The clear-cut assessment across all broadband researchers is that the most widely noted reason for non-adoption is not the price of the broadband connection or any cost related to that connection. Instead, it’s a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet and a lack of understanding of its value. For instance, nearly half of non-adopters say they simply don’t need the Internet at home or are not interested, according to research by the NTIA.

To break down that barrier to adoption, we’ve invested more than $225 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness initiatives, reaching more than 3.1 million people through our network of national and local nonprofit community partners. Partners like the National League of Cities have also played a crucial role in making more people aware of these training opportunities.

One of my favorite statistics that truly highlights the progress we are making is from research by Dr. John B. Horrigan, former head of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and a preeminent researcher on broadband adoption and utilization. He found that even though Comcast is only one of multiple providers, and does not have broadband systems in two-thirds of the country, the company’s Internet Essentials program has accounted for one-quarter of all of the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with children from the program’s inception through June 2014.

We look forward to the continued success of the program. We believe the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities and inspire a new generation of leaders – but we can’t do this alone. We hope you will join us in this fight to close the digital divide. If you’d like to get more involved and become a partner, please sign up at www.internetessentials.com/partner and help spread the word.

david cohen, comcast_150x187About the Author: David L. Cohen is Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. David has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, legal affairs, corporate administration and community investment, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO. He also serves as Chief Diversity Officer for the company.