Comcast is doubling down on its efforts to bring affordable broadband service to underserved communities, including beefing up speeds for customers of its Internet Essentials product, accelerating the rollout of its Lift Zones program and funding organizations working for social justice and equality through digital equity grants.
“We’ve been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there’s never been a greater need than now,” Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson said in a press release. “As a media and technology company, we have a unique opportunity to provide meaningful connection to the communities we serve – whether that’s through access to the internet, programs to support creativity and digital literacy and skills training for young people, or workforce development opportunities for adults. Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come.”
Comcast first launched the Internet Essentials program in 2011, offering broadband service to those in need for $9.95 per month. Over the past decade it has connected millions of people to the internet at home, donated tens of thousands of free laptops to students and families across the country and invested $700 million in digital literacy, skills training and awareness programs that have reached 11 million people. On Tuesday, Comcast said it would double download speeds for the service to 50 Megabits per second and raise upstream speeds to 5 Mbps at no extra charge. The faster speeds will be available beginning March 1 to both new and existing Internet Essentials customers.
Comcast also said it would accelerate the timeline to launch about 1,000 Lift Zones in community centers across its footprint. Originally the company had planned to connect the Lift Zones, which provide safe spaces for students to access free Wi-Fi and participate in distance learning and do their schoolwork, over several years. Now, after launching several hundred Lift Zones in 2020 across the country, Comcast said it will connect 1,000 Lift Zones by the end of this year.
“Transforming our Boys & Girls Clubs into Lift Zones has made a huge difference in the lives of the students we serve in Philadelphia,” Boys & Girl Clubs of Philadelphia president and CEO Lisabeth Marziello said in a press release. “Many of the kids who come to our clubs either don’t have the Internet at home or they have it, but they can’t study at home for a variety of reasons and they need somewhere to go. We’re so happy to be able to work with Comcast to give our students a safe, clean space where they can stay in school even when schools are closed.”
Comcast also said it would earmark about $3.5 million within its $40 million digital equity grant program for partners including CodePath, Genesys Works, Jobs for the Future, NPower, i.c. stars, Opportunity at Work, Goodwill, YWCA, and Philadelphia Youth Network. Comcast launched the digital equity program last year to help organizations that foster social justice and equality and so far has made investments in partners like Per Scholas, Coded by Kids, Center for Black Innovation, Inner-City Arts, and BUILD.org.
“Comcast’s investment in CodePath will help us double our impact to reach nearly 5,000 students and over 60 university partners in 2021. As disadvantaged communities struggle with mass job losses in the wake of the pandemic, our courses are one of the few holistic programs placing thousands of underrepresented minorities into our nation’s most competitive technical roles,” said CodePath co-founder and CEO Michael Ellison in a press release. “Through partnerships with CodePath and many other dedicated organizations, Comcast continues to demonstrate its commitment to creating tangible and systemic change, while providing new opportunities for people of color in the tech sector and beyond.”
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