Submitted by Nick McDonald, Comcast.
Comcast Washington today made several announcements that build on its longstanding commitment to advance digital equity, close the digital divide, and address digital literacy throughout the state. The new and expanded efforts in Washington are designed to help connect as many people to the Internet as possible and create new opportunities for underrepresented communities through the education, resources, and skills training they need to succeed in today’s digital economy.
The company is doubling the download and upload speeds of its low-income internet adoption service, Internet Essentials, for new and existing customers at no additional cost. The new speeds begin rolling out to customers statewide on March 1 and will be added to their accounts automatically, increasing download speed to 50 Mbps and upstream speed to 5 Mbps. These speeds support multiple concurrent videoconferencing sessions and enable family members with multiple kids to learn and work from home.
Comcast also is increasing the number of WiFi connected community centers called “Lift Zones” the company is launching in Washington state to help those without internet at home find safe, free places to get online. Lastly, the Comcast announced it would be offering more than $40 million in cash and digital equity grants for nonprofits nationwide working to address equity issues.
“We’ve been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there’s never been a greater need than now,” said Dave Watson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Comcast Cable. “As a media and technology company, we have a unique opportunity to provide meaningful connection to the communities we serve – whether that’s through access to the Internet, programs to support creativity and digital literacy and skills training for young people, or workforce development opportunities for adults. Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come.”
In 2020, Comcast redoubled those efforts, as COVID-19 shined an even brighter light on this important equity issue in our society. And at the onset of 2021 – which coincides with the 10th anniversary of its Internet Essentials program – the company is once again advancing its digital equity commitment.
Accelerating Broadband Adoption in Washington
For more than a decade, Comcast has focused on connecting low-income families in Washington to the Internet through Internet Essentials, one of the state’s largest and most comprehensive low-cost Internet adoption program for low-income households. Since 2011, Comcast has connected 85,000 Washington households to the Internet, and donated thousands of free laptops to students and families across the state.
Comcast Internet Essentials is now supporting families across 89 school districts in the state, through the WA State K-12 Internet Access program, provided by Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). To date the company and OPSI have offered service to more than 55,000 households during the pandemic through this partnership.
The new speeds of 50/5 mbps will provide even greater support for multiple concurrent video-conferencing sessions and enable family members with multiple kids to learn and work from home. “Comcast’s Internet Essentials program has been a key component of successful remote learning in our state,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. “These faster internet speeds will make a difference for students as they continue engaging with their educators and peers virtually.”
This is the sixth time in 10 years that Comcast has increased broadband speeds for Internet Essentials customers while keeping the cost of the service at $9.95 a month. In addition, Comcast continues to offer 60 days of free service to any new Internet Essentials customer who signs up before June 30, 2021.
Launching 1,000 Lift Zones by December 2021
Comcast recently announced a multiyear program to launch more than 1,000 Lift Zones in community centers across the country by working with its network of thousands of nonprofit partners and city leaders. So far, Comcast has identified 40 Lift Zones to further address the homework gap in Washington state.
Lift Zones provide safe spaces for students to access free WiFi so they can participate in distance learning and do their schoolwork. Comcast is now accelerating that timeline to connect 1,000 Lift Zones by the end of this year – more than a year ahead of its original plan. The company has Lift Zones launched with key partners in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane counties across the State of Washington, and is actively working with and seeking partners across its service footprint statewide to open more throughout the year.
“The Lift Zones are really playing a big part in their futures. If students are not in school, their school is literally right in front of them on a laptop. And if they can’t log on and actively participate, they are missing out on school,” said Marci Volmer, COO – The Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County.
Investing in Education and Equity-Focused Organizations
Comcast is also expanding its targeted philanthropic investments in organizations working to increase digital equity and contributing to the collective action needed to drive sustained change. These new organizations and investments are focused on creating greater pathways to opportunities for communities of color, particularly in media, technology, arts, and entrepreneurship. Since last year, Comcast has committed more than $40 million in cash to education and equity-focused partners that share the company’s goals of advancing social justice and equality.
Comcast is also continuing its decade-long targeted philanthropic investments in Washington to organizations working to increase digital equity and create pathways to opportunities for communities of color. In 2020, Comcast invested more than $6 million statewide and the company will make a similar investment in Washington this year. Comcast partners with United Way King County, Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), El Centro de la Raza, Goodwill, YWCA, The Seattle Office of Economic Development, Family Promise of Spokane, and other organizations that share the company’s goals of advancing digital equity and social justice and equality.