A PEW RESEARCH STUDY REPORTS MORE than half of Americans find the internet to be essential during the COVID-19 outbreak. This finding is not surprising to many people who are reading this magazine; as business leaders and parents who are working and managing learning from home, we know a home internet connection is needed now more than ever. Just pause for a moment and imagine life without internet at home.
While COVID-19 and the related stay-at-home orders put a spotlight on how critical it is to have access to technology and a reliable, high-speed home internet connection, the crisis also exposed even further the cruel irony of the digital divide. Those with home internet connections benefit from all the opportunities of a digital world, but those without fall even further behind.
Some of our most vulnerable populations include low-income and refugee families who suddenly have to adapt to online learning and figuring out how to work from home or search for work virtually for the first time, and seniors who need to stay connected as they isolate away from loved ones can particularly benefit from home connectivity.
How can we come together as civic leaders to address this need to better serve our community? Here are some ways we can work together to ensure greater digital equity and inclusion.
Comprehensive Approach To Digital Inclusion
In order to address the digital divide, we need to think of the issue as more than just a physical home internet connection. There are multiple barriers to connectivity that come into play and make up the reasons why an individual or a family may not have a home internet connection.
Some people lack the digital literacy to understand the benefits a home internet connection can provide. They may not fully realize the equalizing power the internet can provide to them and their family, enabling someone to obtain critical computing skills, search for jobs, access news and health care information and so much more.
Others may only have a smart phone or tablet at home and lack affordable hardware like a laptop or desktop computer. An internet connection is only as good as the device by which it is accessed.
And for others, the price of internet service may be the determining factor. Many people are balancing bills and are unaware of more affordable home internet options.
The good news is that there are numerous broadband companies and various internet offers available to low-income families throughout metro Denver. Comcast, for its part, has offered its Internet Essentials program for nearly a decade. The program is designed to be a wrap-around solution to directly confront every barrier to digital adoption by offering affordable internet at $9.95 per month, subsidized computers and free digital literacy training to eligible low-income families.
If we’re going to build digital equity in Colorado, we must address all three of these barriers and work together to educate our community on the importance of a home connection.
As a leader in our community, I know you can appreciate the magnitude of this challenge, and that it’s one requiring all of us to work together to address.
At Comcast we’re constantly evolving our Internet Essentials program to better meet the needs of the community. In March, following the COVID-19 outbreak, we began offering Internet Essentials free for two months for new customers – an offer that will remain available through the end of the year.
We aligned and collaborated with a lot of help from elected officials, school districts and foundations and the nonprofit community to ensure we reached all families and individuals in our community.
We also partnered with nearly a dozen organizations to further cover the cost of home internet connectivity for Internet Essentials-eligible individuals and families who need additional financial assistance through our Internet Essentials Partner Program. The program, which relies on public-private partnerships, enables companies or nonprofits and other organizations to coordinate funding to help connect those who may still be unconnected.
Through creative solutions with local partners, together we’ve connected thousands of people to the power of the internet since March – many for the very first time.
We still have work to do to reach those who remain unconnected; and to ensure they gain the digital skills necessary to learn, work, and access health care and other vital services online.
School districts, foundations and nonprofit organizations cannot take on this massive task their own. And, we as business and community leaders can’t address it on our own. We all have a responsibility to re-imagine how we work together to help raise awareness about the need for connectivity, as well as ensure more people know about what programs and resources are available.
Everyone should have access to the opportunities made possible by having the internet at home. We hope as fellow civic leaders you join us in this work to build digital equity, as when our communities thrive, so do we.