State of the state: Telecom
The Internet is pervasive in everyday life, sure, but not for everyone. Statistic in point: While 92 percent of homes in the U.S. have access to broadband, 37 percent remain offline.
This “Digital Divide” between the haves and have-nots aligns with income: 42 percent of households in Denver with less than $30,000 in income have broadband, versus 85 percent of households with incomes above $75,000. The disparity catalyzes a vicious cycle in today’s increasingly Web-centric economy, said Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen.
“There’s a cruel irony at play here,” he noted: Disadvantaged students are most likely to lack broadband access at home, putting them at more of a disadvantage. “Instead of making the world smaller, we’re exacerbating differences.”
Available in Colorado as of Sept. 21, the offer allows students on the National School Lunch Program to receive broadband for $9.95 a month, a significant discount from the $48.95 retail price. An optional netbook-style PC from program partners Acer and Dell is $149.95, also subsidized by Comcast. The program will eventually be available to 4,000 school districts in 39 states where Comcast operates – a total of 2.5 million households, 48,000 in Denver alone.
Comcast partners with school districts for a reason: The next generation of jobs will require digital literacy, and as Comcast is the largest data provider in the country, Cohen sees it as something of a civic duty, noting a full 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies now only accept applications online. “We’re sealing off jobs and opportunities just because of the Internet,” Cohen said.
At a press conference at Denver’s South High School for the launch of the program, dubbed Internet Essentials, Gov. John Hickenlooper echoed Cohen, noting, “If you don’t have access to the Internet, it’s almost inconceivable you’ll be ready for the next generation of jobs” – let alone the current iteration of high school, where the Internet is today a portal for researching homework, checking grades and communicating with teachers.
“The computer is truly our wheel, and Internet access is our combustion engine,” says Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.”We can’t expect our students to ride into the 21st century with horse-and-buggy carts.”
Amid a landscape of education budget cuts, this is a public-private partnership that pays off for school districts and communities as a whole. “It’s the low-income families who need it the most,” said Larry Fullerton, CEO and executive director of Hope Communities, a Denver nonprofit that provides affordable housing to families in need. “If they can get Internet access at home, it benefits everybody – mom can find healthy recipes, dad can learn job skills, the kids can do their homework.”
“If you spent time in Washington, D.C., you would think this is a deployment problem,” Cohen said. “It’s actually an adoption problem. The No. 1 problem is digital literacy.
“We can’t expect ExxonMobil to do this – this is our business,” he added. “If we stick at it for a little while, we should be able to move the needle a little on closing the Digital Divide.”
ON THE WEB