Every year for the past four years, we have provided an annual Internet Essentials update. For our 2015 report, it gives me great pride to announce that through February 2015, more than 450,000 families have signed up for Internet Essentials, bringing the power of the Internet to 1.8 million low-income Americans.
To put that in perspective, 1.8 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities as well as 12 states and the District of Columbia. It’s also worth noting that the six-month period from September 2014 through February 2015 was the most successful period in the program’s history, with nearly 90,000 new Internet Essentials enrollments.
Nationally, after less than four years of effort, Internet Essentials has now reached 17 percent of its estimated eligible population. For the fourth year in a row, the Chicago metro area leads the way in closing the digital divide with Internet Essentials. More than 50,000 families benefitting 200,000 low-income Chicagoans – nearly 25 percent of its eligible population – have signed up. The Miami metro area is second, with more than 41,500 families benefitting 166,000 low-income citizens – 28 percent of its eligible population. The Atlanta metro area is third with more than 25,000 families benefitting more than 100,000 low-income citizens – almost 20 percent of its eligible population.
Here are the top 10 metro areas and top 10 states for Internet Essentials:
Significantly, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent (2013) American Community Survey, with a sample size of more than 3.5 million Americans, reveal that 52 percent of low-income households in the U.S., with household incomes below $35,000, now subscribe to wireline broadband at home, as compared to 48 percent in 2010. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), although broadband adoption for low-income households has been increasing, for certain low-income groups, it still falls more than 20 percentage points behind the general population, which had a 73 percent adoption rate in 2012.
We are justifiably proud of Internet Essentials, which is now indisputably the nation’s leading broadband adoption program for low-income Americans. Compared to other similar programs that disclose actual connections (as opposed to much less reliable results based on opinion survey research), Internet Essentials outpaces all other low-income adoption programs. For example, CenturyLink’s program, modeled off of Internet Essentials and similarly adopted as a condition in the Qwest Communications transaction in 2011, reports only 27,536 enrollments in the last three years. And this past fall, Cox’s broadband adoption program reported (opens in new tab) 15,000 enrollments after more than two years of effort.
Internet Essentials, called "the largest experiment ever" to close the digital divide by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has been unparalleled in its success. 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 about one-quarter of the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with children from the program’s inception through June 2014, according to Dr. John B. Horrigan, America’s preeminent researcher on broadband adoption and utilization and former head of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.
Researchers from the FCC, the NTIA, the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and others have explored the possible causes for the stubborn broadband adoption gap. The unambiguous view across all broadband adoption researchers is that the most widely cited main reason for non-adoption is not the price of the wireline broadband connection or any cost related to that connection, but rather a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet, a lack of understanding as to the value or usefulness of the Internet, fear of the Internet, and lack of basic digital literacy skills. As one survey-based study sponsored by the NTIA and conducted by two FCC economists and two analysts from Connected Nation reveals, about two-thirds of non-adopters would not consider subscribing to the Internet at home at any price. Additional research by the NTIA has shown that nearly half of non-adopters say they don’t need the Internet at home or are not interested.
Dr. Horrigan recently completed his second study of Internet Essentials customers. Called Deepening Ties, it examines the evolution of these customers from non-adopters to adopters. Such longitudinal research has never been completed before.
Perhaps the most striking finding of his report is that the real key to economic and personal empowerment through broadband adoption comes when you combine Internet access with formal training and education. For example, he found that those who received formal digital training – like the kind provided by non-profits through the Internet Essentials program – were 15 percentage points more likely to use the Internet to look for a job.
Another striking finding is how Internet Essentials helps low-income families improve the quality of their personal and professional lives. Almost two-thirds of Internet Essentials families said Internet Essentials helped them manage their work schedules and better balance work/life responsibilities. The data underscores just how important use of the Internet is for 21st century job readiness, STEM education, and personal empowerment.
We agree with Dr. Horrigan that we must apply equal focus to broadband adoption and broadband utilization or as he calls it, "digital readiness." This is precisely why Internet Essentials is designed as a wrap-around solution that marries low-cost broadband access with training and education – and why it is structured as a partnership between Comcast and thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and other nonprofit community partners. In this way, we build community-based engagement and a bridge across the digital divide to empower American lives. As Dr. Horrigan also points out, however, this kind of work isn’t easy, and it requires the extended participation of a broad coalition of non-profits, industry, and government to make a difference.
Attacking the digital divide can only happen through relentless, sustained grassroots efforts to educate and engage families at the hyper-local level. It requires the support of elected officials of all kinds at the federal, state, and local levels. It requires superintendents, principals, teachers, non-profits, corporate partners, volunteers, and employees to drive and sustain outreach to the eligible families. It requires thousands of digital literacy training programs at hundreds of non-profits across the country. It requires staffing thousands of tables at back-to-school events for parents and children. It requires countless numbers of boots on the ground hitting the pavement, handing out brochures, putting up posters, and carrying the Internet Essentials banner.
In short, it requires a movement.
What’s the end result? Consider some of these findings from our own Internet Essentials customer research:
- 98 percent said their kids use the Internet service to do schoolwork and, of these respondents, 95 percent said it has had a positive impact on their child’s grades.
- 92 percent said they would recommend Internet Essentials to friends and family and, of these customers, 85 percent have already done so.
- 89 percent said they are satisfied with the program.
- 85 percent said they use the Internet service every day or almost every day.
- 54 percent use it for job hunting, and of these, 65 percent feel that having the Internet at home has helped them find a job.
These outcomes highlight exactly what is at stake here.
Over the past three and a half years, notwithstanding our incredible progress, what has become clear to us is that this program works. But to continue to make progress, we need to get Internet Essentials in front of more low-income Americans, which of course will happen after the closing of our Time Warner Cable transaction when we add cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Charlotte to the Internet Essentials footprint. And we will need more people and organizations to get more involved if we are going to continue to make progress in addressing this critical issue.
We are proud that, based on input from our partners and our own learnings, we have consistently evolved Internet Essentials over the last three and a half years, making more than 20 key enhancements. In fact, the program today looks very different from what it was when we first introduced it. We’ve increased speeds twice, increased eligibility by 30 percent, built a website and an online application, created a dedicated call center, established national and local partnerships, and provided amnesty to families with past-due balances.
Here are some additional milestones we have achieved through the end of February 2015. We have:
- 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 national and local non-profit community partners.
- Dedicated $1 million in grants to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones, where networks of non-profit partners are working together to enhance public Internet access and increase family-focused digital literacy training in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, Miami, and Seattle, among others.
- Provided nearly 38,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.
- Distributed more than 45 million Internet Essentials program materials.
- Broadcast more than 6 million public service announcements, valued at more than $75 million.
- Welcomed nearly 3.2 million visitors to the Internet Essentials websites in English and Spanish and the Online Learning Center.
- Fielded nearly 3 million phone calls to our Internet Essentials call center.
- Offered Internet Essentials in more than 30,000 schools and 4,000 school districts, in 39 states and the District of Columbia.
- Partnered with thousands of community-based organizations, government agencies, and federal, state, and local elected officials to spread the word.
Internet Essentials has been a tremendous success by any measure. We appreciate the incredible support by all of our partners – and look forward to continued success of this program in closing the digital divide following the close of our Time Warner Cable transaction.
In the meantime, as always, for more information on how to get involved, please visit www.internetessentials.com/partner to order free brochures and collateral material to hand out in your community.
David Cohen is executive vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast
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