Awareness, Outreach, and Innovation at the Core of Efforts to Achieve Digital Equity

Yesterday, I was honored to return to the White House as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the success of the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), in which Comcast proudly participates. 

ACP provides a $30 per month benefit towards purchasing Internet service ($75 per month on tribal lands). This removes cost as a barrier to broadband adoption and is a once in a generation opportunity to close the digital divide.

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In fact, the White House announced that over 11.5 million households have signed up for ACP to date. Comcast is committed to driving increased participation in the program to benefit even more eligible families in our footprint. 

In her remarks, Vice President Harris spoke of a student she’d recently met, Llulisa, who got high-speed Internet at home when the pandemic began to attend school.  Llulisa and her family are Comcast Internet Essentials customers, and I too got to meet her recently and learned how connectivity changed her life – including helping her identify the college she’s been accepted to for next Fall. 

As the Vice President noted, “In the 21st century, access to the Internet is essential for success.”

And President Biden framed the broadband adoption challenges that we face as a nation perfectly in his remarks.

“High-speed Internet is not a luxury any longer, it’s a necessity,” said President Biden. “And that’s why the bipartisan infrastructure law included $65 billion to make sure we expand access to broadband Internet in every region of the country — urban, suburban and rural, everywhere.”

Alisha Jones introduced the President and highlighted her experience with ACP. We are so proud that Alisha has been a Comcast customer for several years. Alisha is also a participant in Goodwill’s workforce development programs, which we’re proud to support through a long-term nationwide partnership which includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to expand their programs to new markets. We also installed free WiFi in Goodwill locations to aid jobseekers and learners alike. 

Alisha is a single mother of two and is currently enrolled in courses at her local community college to obtain a medical billing certification, and she ultimately plans to work towards an Associate’s degree. Her children use the Internet at home to complete their schoolwork, and her oldest son used it to apply to colleges. He’s now set to attend a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the fall in the President’s home state of Delaware!  

“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 tele-healthcare, and go to classes and access other necessary resources,” said Alisha. “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.”

“This is what we consider our ‘game changer,’” added Alisha, who subscribes to Comcast’s innovative new Internet Essentials Plus offering, which includes 100 Mbps speed, a modem with WiFi, access to millions of WiFi hotspots, and unlimited data. 

At a cost of $29.95 per month, Internet Essentials Plus is completely covered by the ACP benefit – meaning customers like Alisha receive the service for free. 

In addition to this new offering, Comcast is making it even easier to sign up – for the first time, people will soon be able to sign up for Internet Essentials Plus at over 500 Xfinity Stores nationwide. This new option is available in select cities today and will continue to roll out over the next few months. 

We know that our company’s efforts alone won’t complete the job of achieving digital equity. That’s why we have partnered with thousands of community organizations across the country to help increase awareness of benefits like ACP, along with much-needed digital skills training to teach folks the basics of the Internet and staying safe online. 

This challenge of broadband adoption, even when Internet service is available for free, was addressed in a recent op-ed by Dr. Allison Clark, a digital access and literacy advocate in Florida: 

If glossy brochures and TV spots were enough to convince folks to sign up for the Information Age, the ACP’s success would be preordained. But since folks without online connections are more skeptical and harder to reach, we need old-fashioned person-to-person persuasion.

We need to spark interest and curiosity one neighbor at a time.

Trusted community leaders, including clergy, educators, and neighborhood activists, should be tapped to evangelize the program to neighbors in local churches, barbershops, laundromats, and small businesses. People already participating in the program can serve as neighborhood ambassadors, explaining how internet access has improved their lives.

Executed properly, the ACP could take its place in the tradition of social safety-net programs providing all Americans with basic levels of nutrition, housing and health care. We have a historic opportunity to make the Information Age an era of equity. 

We’re proud to fund organizations and programs doing the work – interacting directly with community members and spreading the word about programs like ACP. Many of these individuals are digital navigators – trusted community leaders that help close the digital divide holistically with connectivity resources, access to devices, and digital skills training.  

All of our efforts in this area are part of Comcast’s Project UP, a $1 billion commitment over 10 years to reach tens of millions of people with connectivity. At the core of our commitment is a firm belief in working together with government at all levels, community leaders and nonprofits, and others in the industry to achieve the greatest results. 

I wrote in the Boston Herald a couple of weeks ago that we are truly at a turning point for the digital divide in the United States. 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. 

Broderick Johnson is Executive Vice President, Public Policy and Executive Vice President, Digital Equity at Comcast Corporation.

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