Bridging the Digital Divide

The White House brought national attention this summer to the concept of bridging the digital divide, with the announcement of a low-income ...

The White House brought national attention this summer to the concept of bridging the digital divide, with the announcement of a low-income Internet pilot program called ConnectHome. With the aim of reaching 275,000 households in 27 cities and one tribal nation, ISPs, including Cox Communications and Suddenlink, are joining with the administration to offer low-cost broadband access, technical training and, in some cases, devices, like tablets, to residents in assisted housing units.

But cable companies have been busy building up their own programs to help low-income individuals and families gain access to technology. For example, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) recently announced the launch of pilot programs in Colorado and Illinois, whereby it will extend its Internet Essentials program to low-income community college students. Recipients of need-based Federal Pell Grants are eligible. In these two states, this means 130,000 individuals.

"By offering an affordable Internet connection and computer, Internet Essentials will enable students to access educational resources not just at school, but also at home. In addition, Internet Essentials will link students to crucial digital literacy training programs that will not only help students as they study but will continue to have positive impacts on them after graduation," David Cohen, SVP and chief diversity officer, Comcast, wrote in a blog post.

Nationally, Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected 500,000 households and benefitted 2 million people since its adoption in 2011. Internet service through the program costs only $9.95 per month plus tax. An Internet-ready computer can be purchased for less than $150, and free digital literacy training is available. Families are eligible if they have one child participating in the National School Lunch Program.

Comcast recently announced it would increase the program's downstream speeds from 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps and offer a WiFi router for no additional cost. The company also launched another pilot program in Palm Beach County, FL, and San Francisco, which would extend Internet Essentials to low-income senior citizens.

In separate news, the James M. Cox Foundation gave a $288,500 grant to EveryoneOn, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the digital divide. The money will be used to provide 1,500 tablet computers to families in Georgia who enroll in Cox's Connect2Compete. This is EveryoneOn's flagship program offered in partnership with ISPs. The tablets will come preloaded with educational software and will cost $30. Cox, a founding partner of Connect2Compete, has connected more than 100,000 low-income Americans to the Internet since 2012.

"More than half of the families who have enrolled in the Connect2Compete program have seen improved grades for children in the home," said Alex Taylor, EVP, Cox Enterprises.

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