JACKSON (WWJ) — Comcast Corp. says it’s “relaunching” its Internet Essentials offering of low-cost Internet access and computers to families of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

The kickoff event came Monday, when retired pro football player and coach Tony Dungy returned to his high school alma mater in Jackson — a school now called Middle School at Parkside — for an assembly with more than 700 seventh and eighth grade students. Civic and community leaders also attended.

Comcast said more than 250,000 households, home to about a million low-income Americans, have signed up for the program in its first two years, including 13,000 households in Michigan, 8,500 of which are in metro Detroit.

Dungy spoke on the importance of leadership — and connectivity, making an announcement about what he and Comcast are doing to close the digital divide. Comcast introduced and shared the success stories of several local families that have benefited from the Internet Essentials program, as well as gave away notebook computers to several students at Parkside.

Dungy used the occasion to announce that the Dungy Family Foundation will donate enough six-month opportunity cards to all eligible Parkside families (currently enrolled or families that enroll in Internet Essentials by March 31) to ensure more Jackson families can get connected. In addition, the Comcast Foundation announced a $25,000 grant award to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Jackson to upgrade the Center’s existing Tony Dungy Lounge and rename it the Tony Dungy Media Center.

“Internet Essentials can have a game-changing impact on education and the lives of young people,” said Dungy. “It really levels the playing field for those that might not have the opportunities they deserve just because they never had access to the tools and resources that drive success in today’s technologically advanced world.”

In the first six months of 2013, 70,000 new families have signed up for Internet Essentials. In addition, Comcast has distributed more than 18,000 subsidized computers; trained nearly 20,000 people; publicized the program in more than 4,000 school districts and more than 30,000 schools; broadcast nearly 2 million public service announcements and partnered with nearly 7,000 community based organizations, agencies, and officials to help spread the word about the program.

Improvements to the program for its third year include:
* Increased Speed — For the second time in two years, Comcast has increased its broadband speeds for Internet Essentials customers up to 5 megabits per second downstream and up to 1 Mbps upstream. The company has more than tripled the download speeds for Internet Essentials customers since the program’s launch.
* Streamlined Enrollment – Comcast has further streamlined the enrollment process by expanding the instant approval process for families whose students attend schools where 70 percent or more of the students are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program.
* Expanded Eligibility – Comcast has expanded program eligibility criteria for the second time, to include parochial, private, cyberschool, and homeschooled students. Now, nearly 2.6 million families nationwide are eligible for Internet Essentials.
* Created an Online Application Tool – On InternetEssentials.com and InternetBasico.com, it is now easier and faster for a family to apply for Internet Essentials. This convenient online request form is available in English and Spanish and can be accessed through any Internet-enabled computer, tablet, or smartphone. It can be used by families on computers at community centers, local libraries or at a friend’s to request an application.
* Introduced Internet Essentials Opportunity Cards – Our community partners are now able to help connect low-income families to the Internet by purchasing Opportunity Cards that can be used toward the cost of paying for Internet Essentials service.


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