Currently, more than 14 million people have been connected through the cable industry's low-cost broadband adoption programs. And over the past two years throughout the COVID pandemic, cable internet service providers (ISPs) have doubled down on their efforts to expand eligibility, forge public-private partnerships to connect as many households as possible, offer connected devices for use in the home, provide digital training classes, and spread the news about the benefits of their broadband adoption programs to those unaware that they even qualify. Comcast's Internet Essentials is one of those programs that is truly making an impact on the lives of millions of Americans.
A Lifeline at Home for Student Families
Just over a decade ago, Comcast established Internet Essentials in its quest to achieve digital equity, and today it is the largest and most comprehensive private-sector broadband adoption program for low-income Americans. Internet Essentials has connected more than 10 million low-income Americans to the internet since its launch. LaJoy Johnson-Law, a resident of Washington, D.C., is one of those people.
In 2020, when COVID forced schools to shut down and shift to online instruction, Johnson-Law found out through her daughter's school district that she qualified for the Internet Essentials program because of her eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. She had no idea that she was entitled to receive the benefit, further exemplifying the important role that schools and community organizations play in spreading the word about broadband adoption programs. Internet Essentials partners with thousands of these organizations nationwide.
"There are so many qualifications that families can tap into. I want to be able to share that info so that all families can have [internet] for their children," said Johnson-Law. "When the internet was set up and working, it felt amazing. It felt like we were connected with the world. It was also a sense of relief because [not having internet] had been a point of stress."
The program gave her the internet connectivity her daughter needed to complete her schooling through video conferencing and to access specialized instruction online, including speech, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Johnson-Law was also able to run her school board campaign virtually, while also pursuing higher education classes. "Now that everything is online, it has created many more opportunities, including for myself," she said.
Seamless Connectivity Outside the Home
Internet Essentials has also made an impact on internet accessibility beyond the walls of a household. Over two years ago, the Comcast "Lift Zones" initiative was established to offer free Wi-Fi in community centers throughout the country. The services that these centers provide to school-aged children in particular are significant, and no one knows that better than Indy Barnes, a parent of twin boys who attended the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston—one of the 1,000+ organizations that benefitted from a Lift Zone. The club kept their doors open during the school day in the early days of the pandemic, allowing her kids to connect to their classrooms remotely while she was at work.
"It was a blessing for them to be able to attend the club when their school was closed," said Barnes. "It became a learning environment, and the kids were able to adapt to it." Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston President & CEO Kevin Hattery added, "Comcast stepped up to fill a gap … The Comcast Lift Zones gave us the opportunity to ensure the entire footprint [in a club] was covered so that places like the gymnasium, where you never thought could be used as a learning space, could now be used that way."
Working in Tandem With ACP
Internet Essentials also continues to introduce initiatives that expand eligibility and upgrades to the program. This year, the program began offering Internet Essentials Plus, which includes 100 Mbps speed, a modem with Wi-Fi, access to millions of Wi-Fi hotspots, and unlimited data, for $29.95 per month, but which is completely covered through the federal government's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Comcast and other cable ISPs eagerly participate in the ACP, which helps to further remove cost as a barrier for many families.
At a White House event this past spring highlighting the success of ACP, Alisha Jones spoke about how the free service made all the difference in the world for her family. "I have two children, two boys, 18 and 12 years of age, and through our high-speed broadband provider Comcast, we were able to stay connected with family, receive telehealthcare, and go to classes and access other necessary resources," said Jones. "And now that this critical service has been upgraded to even faster speed with the Internet Essentials Plus program, we all now strive to do our best with our next ventures."
Jones, who introduced President Biden at the event, is taking community college classes with plans to work towards an Associate's degree. "I can attend my classes virtually knowing that my connection is fast enough to keep me present and actively participating. My oldest son will be attending Delaware State University this fall," said Jones. Her children used the internet at home to complete their school work, and her older son also used it to apply to colleges.
Jones also spoke to the heartache her family and many others felt during the COVID pandemic. However, one thing that remained consistent and reliable was her internet service, she asserted. And the burden of having to pay for that service was lifted through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which is now ACP.
Internet Essentials—along with the cable industry's plethora of broadband adoption programs—continues to evolve and expand to work towards closing the digital divide across America. Over the next 10 years, Comcast has pledged a $1 billion commitment to reach tens of millions of people with connectivity. As Broderick Johnson, Comcast executive vice president of public policy and executive vice president of digital equity, wrote, "With the government's historic investment in broadband, we now have the chance to achieve digital equity if we just bring the grit and creativity to address every level of the challenge."