How Comcast, HUD, And Olympic Champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Are Giving Kids A 'Leg Up'
School, friends, and family. These are the dominant forces that make up our kids’ worlds. They have been for well past what I can remember. What’s different today, however, is the significant impact the internet has on all three factors in relationship to the health and welfare of our children and our nation. Frankly put, children who do not have “internet access at home” are being relegated to the backseat in life and learning, ultimately, crippling the entire United States.
This being 'truth', why is it then that, currently, one out of four homes in the U.S. remain internet barren?
It’s a problem both Comcast and The U.S. Department Of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) refuse to allow to persist and now Olympic Champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee has joined in the fight. As the new spokesperson for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, Joyner-Kersee says that she is “proud to represent Internet Essentials and help close the digital divide, so that every child can have the chance to develop to their fullest potential and reach their dreams.”
No doubt the passion behind the Internet Essentials program does not stop with Joyner-Kersee, rather, I felt it, profoundly, when speaking with Karima Zedan, Senior Director Of the Internet Essentials program. It was a conversation that quickly clarified to me the reason this five year-old program has become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive high-speed internet adoption program to-date and in such a short period of time.
Internet Essentials is a “mission” before it is a program. Through it, Comcast is doing its part to support kids and strengthen our nation, understanding their larger purpose in bridging more than just the “digital divide” but “today to tomorrow.”
See what I mean in Karima Zedan’s interview below.
Do you believe that internet access, computer learning, and technology is the great equalizer?
They are some of many great equalizers but they are enormously important ones, especially for children -- from completing homework assignments to connecting with friends and family. They also help families by allowing parents to economize their time more efficiently, through easy access to online banking, healthcare companies, and shopping. Saving time doing mundane chores means more time for families to spend together.
Your recently announced Internet Essentials program expansion is the ninth time Comcast has done so? What initiated the new-and-improved version?
Last October, we were at an event with HUD’s Secretary Julian Castro, who leads the ConnectHome program at HUD -- a program HUD describes as “the digital on-ramp to those living in public housing”. Having aligned Internet Essentials with ConnectHome already, Secretary Castro expressed a new need -- to expand our joint initiative to include families receiving public housing, which extends beyond our prior criteria of eligibility (i.e. families whose children qualify for subsidized school lunch programs). Every new version we have adopted has arisen from the information our partners have provided us. This includes the current testing we are doing to serve senior citizens and 'community college' kids better.
How do you raise the awareness of the importance of internet at home?
You get teachers, public administrators, and more to raise awareness with kids. The number one barrier to adopting “internet in the home” is understanding the benefit of using the internet by parents rather than 'affordability'. Teachers can help overcome this obstacle immensely by educating kids who will then educate their parents as to the need and reasons.
As Hispanic immigrants are the population least likely to use the internet, has Comcast initiated the conversation, internally, regarding providing solutions for this?
That has not been our experience. Over half of our Internet Essentials participants are Latino. All of our program materials are in Spanish and we have a Spanish-speaking call center as well.
What say you to the accusation made by critics of the program that Internet Essentials is highly inefficient and equally as ineffective in, overall, adoption rate?
There is no other company of this type that has connected more low-income households to the internet to-date. I welcome anyone, who questions our intentions and success, to come talk to me. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into this program. It has become part of Comcast’s DNA, including having dedicated an entire infrastructure to its success.
Does Comcast help those who sign up for Internet Essentials learn how to use computers as well?
Since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $300 million in cash and 'in-kind' support to fund digital literacy initiatives to do just that. We’ve reached nearly 4.4 million people through our national and local nonprofit community partners. In addition, we’ve dedicated more than $1.8 million in grants to create Internet Essentials Learning Zones, where networks of nonprofit partners are working together to enhance public Internet access and increase family-focused digital literacy training in Atlanta, Baltimore Chicago, Denver, Fresno, and Seattle, among others.
No doubt, Comcast and Internet Essentials has put their time and money where their mouths are, folks. Beyond what Karima Zedan already shared, Comcast and Internet Essentials has subsidized over 54,000 computers at less than $150 each, welcomed 6.4 million-plus visitors to its English and Spanish websites and its online learning center, partnered with 9,000 community-based organizations, government agencies, and federal, state, and local elected officials to spread the word and more. And they are dedicated to continuing to make a difference using the means they know best.
It’s a mission that’s got legs and it is giving a “leg up” to kids who have little to stand on but the hope that companies like Comcast do their part so that they may, one day, do theirs too. Needless-to-say, this larger picture gives you a whole new perspective on the company who shows up in your mailbox once a month...now doesn’t it?
For more information, or to apply for the program, visit www.InternetEssentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish speakers should call 1-855-765-6995.
Many thanks to Karima Zedan and Comcast for making this interview possible