Approaching Digital Inclusion with Statistics—and a Lot of Heart

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By Julia Tolstrup

David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corp., wants to change the world for the better—one internet connection at a time.

Speaking in Hartford on October 3, Cohen reminded the audience more than once that he’s a fan of statistics. And it was statistics that proved the impact of the day’s star of the show: Comcast’s Internet Essentials program.

Since its inception six and a half years ago, the program, which began as a way to help low-income households with school-aged children adopt the internet, has provided internet to four million low-income Americans around the country.

L–R: Connecticut State Senator Doug McCrory, Jackie Joyner Kersee and David L. Cohen.

L–R: Connecticut State Senator Doug McCrory, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and David L. Cohen.

Of those who have benefitted from the program so far, 98 percent say that internet in the home is used for homework, and 92 percent report that their children do better in school with the availability of home internet. Cohen spoke with pride about the lives that have been changed for the better and with frustration that the company cannot get to everyone fast enough.

Over the years since the program began, there have been multiple expansions to include more and more demographics, including households living in HUD-assisted housing. During his visit to Hartford, Cohen announced the latest expansion of a pilot program to now include low-income seniors in Hartford. 

Cohen is keenly aware of the digital divide in the United States. He is also aware that as the digital future advances, those without internet access are left further and further behind. This impacts not only individuals, but also the larger economy.

In Connecticut, Comcast has connected more than 32,000 residents from 8,000 households through Internet Essentials, and not a moment too soon. Digital, “middle skills” jobs—those requiring a high school diploma but no college degree and some level of digital competency—make up about half of all jobs in the state.

Cohen helps a senior connect to the internet.

Cohen helps a senior connect to the internet.

To properly launch Internet Essentials for seniors, Cohen and local Comcast team members visited the Hartford Housing Authority’s Betty Knox Apartments for seniors in the Asylum Hill section of the city where they created an internet hotspot and supplied 30 laptops for the residents to use.

Also on the scene was six-time Olympic medalist and Internet Essentials spokesperson Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Joyner-Kersee knows a thing or two about adversity: she rose out of childhood poverty to earn a scholarship at UCLA and grabbed the world’s attention as one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

“Access is everything,” Joyner-Kersee told the crowd in Hartford.

Surprise!

Surprise!

Later in the day, Cohen and Joyner-Kersee made a visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford to share details about Internet Essentials with local students, and much to their surprise, present them with brand-new laptops of their own. Joyner-Kersee was a hit among the kids, who simply could not get enough selfies with her.

Cheese!

Cheese!

As Hartford and Connecticut rise toward the future, Cohen is determined to leave no one behind when it comes to basic digital literacy and access. Through the Internet Essentials program, which offers eligible, low-income households affordable internet, a subsidized computer, in-house WiFi and access to digital education across communities, Cohen and Comcast are making sure everyone is connected. You can visit the Internet Essentials website to see if you qualify.

All photos courtesy of Comcast Western New England.

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