Comcast unveiled a new multi-year initiative Thursday to launch more than 1,000 WiFi-connected “Lift Zones” in community centers across the company, providing free internet connections and access to educational and digital skills content to help needy students navigate online learning.
The initiative will complement Comcast's existing Internet Essentials program, which has offered low-cost internet access to families in need since 2011, connecting more than 8 million people to the internet at home. Working with its network of nonprofit partners and city leaders, Comcast will provide WiFi in facilities they have identified to help students get online, participate in distance learning, and do their schoolwork.
“For nearly a decade, Internet Essentials has helped to change the lives of millions of people by providing low-income families with Internet access at home,” Comcast Cable CEO Dave Watson said in a press release. “These Lift Zones, which will be installed in community centers in local neighborhoods that our partners have identified and will run, and where students and families can get online and access the resources they need, especially while so many schools and workplaces have gone virtual.”
Comcast said it has already identified the first 200 Lift Zones, which are intended to help those students who, for a variety of reasons, may be unable to connect to distance learning at home, or who just want another place in which to study.
Several of the Lift Zones are already open and others will open this year in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Trenton, Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C.
Baltimore – Harvey Johnson Community Center at Union Baptist Church – Serves more than 50 students and community members in West Baltimore in a safe space for participating in online education, as well as in inter-generational learning classes, with access to computers and training through its cyber center.
Chicago – BUILD is one of Chicago’s leading gang intervention, violence prevention, and youth development organizations, serving nearly 3,000 young people each year. Its mission is to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to their communities. BUILD focuses on hard-to-serve youth in some of Chicago’s most challenging neighborhoods.
Philadelphia – Olney Recreation Center – A 13.6-acre site with outdoor spaces and recreation building with an auditorium, gymnasium, and multipurpose rooms offering free and low-cost programming for neighborhood children.
Trenton – Catholic Youth Organization of Mercer County – Provides childcare and youth programs to approximately 1,200 children ages 8-14 from Catholic schools and parishes during the academic year.
Twin Cities – The Sanneh Foundation Distanced Learning Hub at Conway Community Center in St. Paul, enables parents and guardians to continue to work while providing a safe space for their children during normal school hours. Sanneh hosts 140 students per day and is offering safe, socially distanced access to educational technology as well as tutoring support.
The Lift Zones initiative comes on the heels of Comcast’s recent launch of its new “Internet Essentials Partnership Program,” which focuses on enabling cities, school districts, and community-based organizations to connect large numbers of low-income students to the Internet at home to support distance learning while many schools remain closed. To date, more than 70 schools have signed up for the Partner Program, potentially benefiting nearly 200,000 students.
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.