By Kenya King (Special to the Daily World)
Thousands of low-income families throughout metro Atlanta will now have an opportunity to have access to low-cost Internet services and free training through a new Comcast initiative called Internet Essentials. The nationwide program is designed to make it easier for disadvantaged families with children to acquire the resources and skills needed to use the Internet.
“If you look at things like employment it’s increasingly difficult to apply for a job unless you apply online. You can’t search for a job unless you search online,” said David Cohen, Comcast executive vice president.
“Look at your classified pages today versus where they were five years ago,” Cohen said, referring to the fact that most people do not use them anymore.
“Now nobody even thinks about doing that, everything is online…that’s what we get to see as a company. All that richness that’s available on the Internet is a potential way of breaking down barriers and of equalizing opportunities in the educational, healthcare, vocational and entertainment space and because of disparities and availability of broadband in lower income community have such lower adoption rates than upper income communities, the Internet is not narrowing differences, it’s exacerbating them.”
The program is slated to offer Internet Essentials to more than 300,000 families with children eligible to receive free lunch under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 28 metro-Atlanta area school districts. The City of Atlanta and many other community organizations have collaborated with Comcast to roll out the program.
“While America has increasingly become a digital nation, many metro-Atlanta families are at a disadvantage because they can’t afford Internet service at home. Comcast is leading the charge in making broadband adoption a reality for more families,” said Reed. “The city of Atlanta is proud to pledge our support, but we can’t do this alone. We need parents, educators, community leaders and other government officials to join in this effort, spread the word and help increase broadband adoption in our community.”
Comcast has also partnered with Dell and Acer computers to offer a discount computer for less than $150 to each qualifying family. Families can sign up for the program through the 2014 school year, and qualifying families with children can remain in the program until the child graduates high school.
“Let’s remember, three years ago, there was no YouTube, there was no Facebook five years ago. People who wanted to buy a book, first of all they would have to buy a [physical] book, and they would have to go to a bookstore. Now we have bookstores going into bankruptcy and going out of business. You’re buying books online…I mean the world is changing,” said Cohen.
Comcast’s Vice President for Government and Community Relations Ande Macke said Comcast’s research shows that the disparity in access to the Internet is explicitly tied to a household’s economic status.
“In the metro Atlanta area, there is a 55 percent broadband adoption rate. However, this has put us – Forbes has put us over the past few years moving between one, two and three in most wired communities; and broadband adoption is one of their criteria. But if you look a little deeper into the numbers, particularly on household incomes, there is a direct correlation between household income and broadband adoption.
“So recognizing this, we saw an opportunity to really continue our tradition of reaching out to the community in a much bigger way and designing a program to help fill that gap. As we studied the problem more in greater detail we found there’s really three major barriers to broadband adoption along economic lines, one of course is cost – cost of the service and secondly the cost of the