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Comcast Internet, Computer Offer To Battle Digital Divide

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Bret Perkins, Comcast Corporation's Vice President of External and Government Affairs, with one of the computers to be offered under the new program

Bret Perkins, Comcast Corporation’s Vice President of External and Government Affairs, with one of the computers to be offered under the new program

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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Comcast Corp. is embarking on what it says is the world’s largest-ever attempt to bridge the digital divide. In metro Detroit, Focus: HOPE is the local partner.

The “Internet Essentials” program offers any family with a child eligible for the federal free school lunch program a broadband Internet connection for $9.95 a month, a chance to buy a computer for $149.99 and instruction on computers and the Internet by mail, on the Web or in person.

Those participating in the program must live in areas where Comcast offers Internet service, have not subscribed to Comcast Internet service within the last 90 days and do not have an overdue Comcast bill or unreturned equipment.

For more information, visit www.internetessentials.com, or for Spanish speakers, www.internetbasico.com. Educators or third-parties interested in helping to spread the word can find more information at www.internetessentials.com/partner. Parents looking to enroll in the program can call toll-free (855) 846-8376 or, for Spanish, (855) 765-6995.

Bret Perkins, Comcast vice president of external and government affairs, said the program had its roots in proposals for funding with federal stimulus money a few years back. While those proposals didn’t get funded, Perkins said “those conversations firmed up a lot of the thinking” that became Internet Essentials.

Perkins said the program addresses three primary barriers to broadband adoption identified by research — a lack of understanding of how the Internet is relevant and useful, the cost of a computer, and the cost of Internet service.

Perkins used his own children as an example of the educational head start the Internet can provide. His own 4 1/2-year-old, he said, is learning about global geography, including learning the names of African countries and studying pictures of the world’s mountains on Google Earth.

Perkins said a refurbished Acer and a new Dell netbook computer will be among the choices offered to those participating in the program at the $149.99 price point. Those participating will receive a voucher in their welcome package to the program that they can use with Acer or Dell, and the computer will be shipped to their homes.

“The goal is, particularly for people who are just getting online, we could have done something that was really cheap but might not last, so as we started to source this, we wanted a quality piece of equipment so that once we get folks online, they can stay online,” Perkins said.

The computer will be loaded with Microsoft’s Starter suite of basic Web surfing and word processing software, as well as Norton Security Suite, a $160 value.

Perkins said Comcast believes between 3 million and 3.5 million families across the country will be eligible for the program. “We don’t have a stated goal” for participation, he said, but “this is the biggest broadband adoption experiment that’s ever been tried. We just want to make sure everyone who is eligible knows about this.”

Perkins said the Internet training component of the program “is the real heavy lift. Across the country, in every one of our regions, we will be offering in-person digital literacy training. To do that, we are partnering with community based organizations that have experience in teaching digital literacy. That is not one of our core competencies, so we work with groups that offer it.”

In metro Detroit, one main partner in Focus: HOPE.

Comcast and Focus: HOPE also announced plans to launch a technology learning and service initiative that teaches young people about broadband technologies and how to put that knowledge to work to serve Detroit. The program, called Comcast Digital Connectors, will be conducted during the 2011-2012 school year at Focus: HOPE and will continue next fall throughout the academic year. This year’s program is made possible through a $25,000 grant that the Comcast Foundation has awarded to Focus: HOPE.

In the Comcast Digital Connectors program, high school students from diverse and low-income backgrounds are selected to gather at Focus: HOPE two evenings a week throughout the school year to learn digital literacy skills. The young people will then volunteer their time at community-based organizations, senior centers, religious-based organizations and even in their own homes to help improve digital literacy.

“Focus: HOPE is an ideal partner to launch the Comcast Digital Connectors program this fall, because of its demonstrated commitment to digital literacy and education in the Detroit community it serves,” said Tim Collins, senior vice president of Comcast’s Heartland Region. “Digital Connectors participants are given a unique opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of others by cultivating leadership skills and computer training expertise, while impacting their neighborhood through community service and preparing for bright futures in the workforce.”

The curriculum for Comcast Digital Connectors covers several broad areas to help the program participants learn real-world applications for broadband technology.  Modules include: leadership principles; digital technology skills development; community service; financial literacy; and civic journalism. The students will learn how to network computer labs, connect wireless access points and create video documentaries.  Additionally, they will be given instruction in entrepreneurship, healthy living, career and character development. The program also includes creative media projects intended to inspire the Digital Connectors to put broadband and Internet technology to their greatest use.

In Michigan, Comcast also supports Comcast Digital Connectors at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in Dearborn and Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) in Holland. Comcast funds several other digital literacy and youth development projects through community partnerships, including: Big Brothers Big Sisters; Boys and Girls Clubs of Michigan; City Year Detroit; One Economy; United Way; Urban Leagues; and other organizations. The company also provides courtesy Internet services to libraries and community centers in the communities it serves in Michigan.

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