As the U.S. continues the important task of connecting more Americans to high-speed broadband this year, the past few years have demonstrated that public-private partnerships are a critical and successful tactic for closing the digital divide. A model that communities can emulate started in Tacoma, Washington, where Comcast has long partnered with the City of Tacoma, the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber, and local, nonprofit organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.
The company’s latest investment in the region came last fall, when Comcast announced $300,000 in awards to support digital access and adoption across the South Puget Sound area.
"What makes this latest investment unique is that it leverages multiple Comcast community service programs, including Comcast RISE—which supports small businesses—and Internet Essentials [the nation’s largest and most comprehensive internet adoption program to advance digital equity] across the community in partnership with Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards," said Andy Colley, Senior External Communications Director for Comcast in Washington.
A Digital Equity Partnership Rooted in History
Comcast launched Internet Essentials in 2011 and, in that same year, launched the program in Tacoma in partnership with the Tacoma Housing Authority, with then-Councilmember Woodards touting the need for broadband access and adoption in the region. Since then, Comcast has connected over 25,000 households in the South Puget Sound region to high-speed internet, and many for the first time. The ISP has also developed strong partnerships with local nonprofits, schools, and small businesses.
From the beginning, Tacoma School District sent out letters to families to spread the word about Internet Essentials, and the Tacoma Library System distributed flyers at all of its branches. Before long, Tacoma had the highest Internet Essentials adoption rate in the state.
Creating Equitable Economic Development
"This long-term relationship has allowed us to support Tacoma from a digital equity perspective for both businesses and community partnerships. This [latest] initiative directs funding to the Chamber to focus on small businesses, and to community partners that are focused on digital access and equity," said Carla Carrell, Senior Director of External & Government Affairs for Comcast in Washington.
Then in December, the Chamber announced that 21 small businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans were receiving $5,000 grants, with help from Comcast, for their businesses from the Thrive Tacoma Business Fund.
"Here at the Chamber we are focused on creating equitable economic development and community engagement for the South Sound. There is a synergy and overlap with the corporate responsibility goals that Comcast has always had," said President & CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber Andrea Reay. "Comcast has been a great historical partner in providing opportunity and access for our community."
Reay explained the barriers that small businesses struggle with, especially those that are women- or veteran-owned, are often related to the lack of access to capital. Many are not able to launch a website or obtain the necessary e-commerce tools. But Comcast’s partnership with the Chamber is helping those businesses overcome these challenges through their financial contributions and programmatic support.
Supporting Community Partners and Families
President & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound Carrie Holden shared how on the community side, the partnership with Comcast was especially impactful for their families during the pandemic when schools closed and the centers stayed open 72 weeks straight. "The Comcast Lift Zones were so important because back then we had buildings full of kids on devices needing to access live and recorded academic sessions. The Lift Zones allowed that to happen."
The partnership continues to impact children through the Lift Zones and through Comcast's special events and giveaways, such as Chromebooks and other connected devices. Holden commented that the technology giveaways are gamechangers for their families because the adults in the house can also leverage the devices in their home.
"I'm very passionate about serving kids and community. That's why this partnership with Comcast is so incredibly important. It has allowed us to expand and enhance. Not only has it allowed us to serve kids day to day, it has allowed us to step in during COVID. That has been incredibly impactful for the kids and community," said Holden.
The future of Tacoma looks bright with multiple stakeholders continuing to advance digital equity across the region. "Thanks to Comcast, we're moving from talking about how to create equity to actually doing it," Reay remarked. "This is how we create generational wealth and economic equity—by supporting the people who need it the most."