The internet connects us all and allows for an innumerable amount of opportunities. I didn’t realize the full impact of this until recently. Last week, Comcast invited me to join a public event they were having at Mayfair Community Center in San Jose, CA. The event focused on Comcast’s Internet Essentials and announcements that would affect all in attendance. It was truly a moving and humbling experience.
What is Internet Essentials from Comcast?
Internet Essentials is a special program that connects low-income households to the internet. While this is something many of us take for granted, for these people, online access can make a world of difference. Children can use it for homework, adults can apply for jobs, families can track health care, elderly ones can reconnect with family and friends, and the list goes on. In the past six years, Internet Essentials has connected more than four million people to the internet. In California alone, this affects 150,000 low-income households which comes to some 600,000 individuals.
For only $9.95 a month, low-income families with school-aged children and those living in HUD-assisted housing (i.e. public housing and those on section 8) can get, and stay, connected. In-home Wi-Fi is included. There’s no credit check, installation fee, or term contract. There is also an option to purchase an internet-ready computer (good quality, refurbished, loaded with a lot of useful software) for less than $150.
The Community’s Reaction
At the press conference, three major improvements to the program were announced. The first one was that the pilot program to extend eligibility to low-income seniors is being expanded. Seven additional areas will include Fresno and Santa Clara counties. Second, the internet speed will increase to 15 Mbps down (2 Mbps up). This is three times faster than what is necessary to stream media. Third, thanks to Comcast XFINITY hotspots, Internet Essentials customers get 40 hours of out-of-home Wi-Fi. Another item of note was the six-figure investment being made to local partners such as officials, schools, and non-profit organizations to increase digital literacy about and around this program.
The conference covered a lot of information and, due to language barriers, not everything translated over. But, the audience was rewarded for their patience with one more surprise. All the community members in attendance were going home with a laptop computer and six months of internet. The enthusiasm jumped about 1000% at that point. Take a look at the happy faces filing out of the building!
Why It Matters, Personal Stories, and Obstacles
Before the event, I was able to sit down and chat about this with Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, David L. Cohen, and spokespersons Adamari Lopez and Jackie Joyner Kersee.
Cohen pointed out that the percentage of the the people who could benefit from it the most are the ones that have it in much lower percentages. Which is sad since the internet has the potential to “level the playing field and equalize opportunity.” Denying access to those with low incomes can cause that population to fall further and further behind. “The design of the program is to address and help close the digital divide.” He also mentioned that it is not okay for one-quarter of the country to not have access to the internet at home. So, as a company, Comcast is going to do everything in its power to “try to connect people to the internet regardless of the zip code where they live, or income level of their parents, or the color of their skin.” Basically, Internet Essentials can help open doors for those who might not have a chance otherwise.
He shared a few stories about the difference Internet Essentials has made. Some had to take their kids to McDonald’s after dinner to use the Wi-Fi for homework. A gifted student traveled two hours by bus, each way, just to get one hour of internet service for her schooling (which was 100% online). Two sisters who immigrated from Latin America were completely computer and internet illiterate but were now communicating with their family via Skype. One family had no computer but the son’s homework was all online. He would have to wait for hours at the computer lab to use a computer but, thanks to this program, his “Big Brother” was able to get him a free computer and six months of internet. Another woman got the computer for her kids to do homework but ended up taking online classes and is now a counselor. He concluded with, “The numbers blow you away but the real story is the impact this program has on real families, on real people, in transforming their lives.”
Jackie Joyner Kersee, six-time Olympic medalist, talked about the work she’s involved in at the community center in her hometown. She understands the meaning of opportunity and, “without opportunity, there is no hope.” It offers a place for kids to do homework or to get something to eat, to help people fill out applications, research, or look for jobs online. So, she sees the benefit of Internet Essentials firsthand and this is the main reason she signed on as a spokesperson for a second year. Kersee pointed out that our society is moving very quickly. When looking for entry-level jobs or other things, “if the generation after her does not have [internet] access, then they’re going to be left behind.”
Adamari López, host of Telemundo’s Un Nuevo Día, mentioned fear as a huge obstacle. Fear prevents many Hispanic families from signing up for Internet Essentials. When hearing about internet in their homes, she said, “They think that the government will be behind the computer, spying on them.” Since many are undocumented, they are afraid that if they give their personal information, “they are going to be exposed.” That, however, is not the case. Not only can they safely get online but they can do so at a price they can afford each month.
Too Good To Be True?
Does this sound too good to be true? It might appear that way. But, I assure you, this is a legit program. Internet Essentials from Comcast provides affordable high-speed internet with no strings attached. So, help me spread the word about this fabulous program. Let’s connect more low-income children, adults, and seniors to the internet, thus equipping them to successfully face today’s ever-increasing digital world. Get more information and sign up here.
I was compensated by Comcast to attend this event and to write about my experience. All opinions are my own.