Bridge Span 15-2: Public Challenges, Private Solutions

The promise of broadband is being realized across the country, in urban and rural communities, including all demographics, amongst the middle class and the poor. While access to, and adoption of, broadband have not necessarily spread evenly, they do in fact continue to spread. Years ago the country set out a goal to have broadband in more places for more people, and while the news has been full of reasons to be concerned whether such success will continue, one effort shines brightly.

Comcast announced a great success in that its Internet Essentials program has now brought the benefit of broadband to 1.8 million people across 450,000 low income families. Comcast began Internet Essentials to get more students and families online by offering broadband and a home computer at drastically reduced prices for those who could least afford broadband. And to make sure that all that new access was leveraged the company invested “more than $225 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness training and education, reaching more than 3.1 million people through our national and local non-profit community partners.”

The program is proving successful. Eighty five percent of Internet Essentials’ customers indicate that they use the Internet every day, most (a huge 98 percent) often for homework — the most popular use. But importantly, these low income families have also been using the online connection to try to better their economic situation. Fifty four percent of the customers report that they have been using the broadband service to search and apply for employment with 65 percent indicating that access to the Internet has helped them in that effort

While there is still some gap in broadband adoption (most commonly because some people have indicated in various surveys that they would not adopt broadband at home regardless of price) these sorts of private efforts are leading the way in reaching those wanting broadband access. So, at no expense to taxpayers the Internet Essentials program has improved the education, employment situation, and opportunities for nearly two million citizens.  These sorts of efforts should be given the acclaim that they deserve.

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