Comcast Helping to Bridge the ‘Digital Divide’

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If you want to see me very quickly lose my ever-loving mind, take away my Internet.

When our Internet has gone out in the past, it’s been bad. Some of the harshest things I’ve ever said were uttered on Twitter via my BlackBerry to the defamation of our Internet provider Comcast and Belkin, the unfortunate company that manufactured my old router. We’re talking some hostile stuff here, because something came between me and the World Wide Web that I love.

Am I addicted? Probably. But I can think of worse things to be addicted to. My Internet connection helps me do my job, helps my wife continue her education and gives my 3-year-old daughter access to educational games and videos that she loves. In my house, the Internet is a utility, no different than the electricity or water. It’s just something that we have to have, and it has to be reliable and functional. I need to know that it’s going to be there when it’s time to upload a blog, check my Twitter feed (@Tony_Montcalm, if anyone wants to follow me) or quickly check the news or look up how to replace the belt on my clothes dryer.

I’ve been blessed to have Internet access since a young age. I was one of the first in my classes to begin citing digital articles as references in school assignments and arguing their validity with suspicious teachers who did not understand the Web at all. First, it was dial-up through AOL, and not long after, always-on high-speed Internet through Comcast.

With the exception of a brief, dark period that I had to rely on an awful (but free) Internet connection in our first apartment complex, I’ve been a Comcast broadband devotee ever since. It’s that we haven’t had our tribulations with Comcast – God knows, it’s had some lows – but, with enough calling and hassling and fussing, we’ve always been able to find somebody who made it right, whatever our problem was. When we moved into our house, Comcast crews were there as much as I was, trying all kinds of things to get our television connection clear (we live a ways off the road) and our Internet stable. There are times when I’ve been notified that my file had the word “escalation” written on it due to my hostile approach, but for going on more than 10 years now, from my parents’ house to my own, Comcast has counted me among their faithful.

My appreciation for Comcast has increased as of late, with the announcement today that the company would begin making its high-speed service available for area students who receive free or reduced-cost lunch. The service will be about $10 a month, and for families where the availability of a home computer is an obstacle, Comcast will make desktop computers available for about $150. There will be no connection fee.

If you’re reading this, odds are you don’t understand the hardship of being a student without Web access in academic competition with peers who do. A broad education does not come simply from text books, and the amount of information available online is nothing to knock. Many reliable sources for information have generously made an incredible sum of knowledge accessible on the Internet – something that we, “the connected,” take for granted. Absence of home Internet leads to social isolation as well, since Web-based media is the most common means of communication among today’s youth. Not having Facebook today is like not having television 10 years ago; there’s just something wrong with you.

The digital divide between the haves and the have-nots widens every day, with more content and more information published online that a segment of our population has no access to see. Trying to make use of school and library Internet connections helps, but these are finite resources and access is nonetheless limited.

In this instance, Comcast has already made the investment to build an infrastructure that, based on my experience, is solid, stable and very fast. They have the bandwidth to support more users, and they’re using that for a good cause – to help families who could not otherwise afford it access the Internet.

The program is called Comcast Internet Essentials. To qualify, a family must meet four criteria:

  • Reside in one of the 39 states Comcast serves
  • Have no overdue Comcast bills or unreturned Comcast equipment
  • Not have had Internet services within 90 days before joining the program
  • Have one child enrolled in the National School Lunch Program for free or reduced-cost school lunch

For students, that means having an opportunity more on par with their peers – an opportunity that has been denied them through no fault of their own. For others in the family, high-speed Internet can aid in job searches, provide education and training opportunities outside of their children’s schoolwork and provide something that pretty much everyone in the western world ought to have: an e-mail address.

We who are used to it take the Internet for granted. Some even resent it. But you cannot deny the potential the Internet provides to learn more about our world and its people. With this, Comcast has levelled the playing field, at least a little, by making almost all the world’s knowledge available for a reasonably affordable $10.

As a formerly impoverished student myself – one who realized that it was wiser in the long-run to forgo food than the education and opportunity of the Internet – I’m proud to be a Comcast customer.

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